Summary: Based on the Parable of the Weeds, this sermon examines how Satan works within the church and how the church overcomes.
Jesus prepares the disciples and the church for troubles that lie ahead. The Bible tells us that Satan attacks the church constantly. We usually think of those attacks coming from the outside as Peter said, “The devil prowls about like a roaring lion...” (1 Peter 5.8). But in the Parable of the Weeds, our text today, we see how Satan works from within the church to try to destroy it. Before we look at that parable, I would like to speak about the work of Satan in general.
Evil in This World
I spent a few days this week at the Higher Things Youth Conference at Illinois State University. It was a good time of worship and learning. Everyday we had breakout sessions that met in different buildings on the campus. One of my first sessions took place in the Anthropology building. As I walked through this department and looked at the posters and announcements on the walls, I couldn’t help but sense a little tension between what is usually taught here and what I was thinking about as I was preparing this sermon. Most anthropology departments in the United States could just as well be labeled the “Anti-God Department.” Anthropology comes from the word “anthropos” which means “man,” and so this is the study of human beings and the way they live. Anthropology teachers love to explain to freshman students how religion is all man-made and was the way humans came to terms with things in this world that they did not understand.
But an honest look at this world should cause anyone to wonder about all the evil that exists. How do you explain it? Just consider the carnage of war, the oppression of slavery and the injustice of class and racial prejudice. These evils far exceed the ugliness that we find even in the animal world. In our first lesson today Pastor Hemenway read Paul’s words to the Romans that “the whole creation groans...” (8.22). The creation is weary of and suffers much from one particular creature - human beings. I see the reality of evil in another place when I teach, of all people, our little preschoolers. There are certain subjects that attract their attention. When you talk about toys they obviously light up. They also perk up when you talk about being good or bad. They love to hear about Jesus and so prove His words “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19.14). But they also seem unusually interested in evil and in the Devil. They seem to sense that there is evil in this world, and that it is not by nature a safe place. They seek the safety of parents, and they sense the safety of Jesus. I don’t think it is hard to see that there is a Resident Evil in this world. People often make the mistake of trying to explain it away or of looking for it’s source in weird things like aliens. Jesus tells us where it comes from and how it is at work among us.
The Problem of Evil in the Church
There are two ways that evil works within the church. One way is simply through the weakness and bad behavior of its members. No one in the church is perfect, and sometimes people make the mistake of thinking everyone should be perfect. So someone says something or does something they don’t like. Or perhaps they fail to say something or do something they should. They feel offended and leave the church. I meet people all the time who have spent many years away from the fellowship of the church, and that is almost always what happened. This is one problem that we need to avoid. We are to bear one another’s burdens, as Paul says, and so fulfill the Law of Christ (Galatians 6.2). But Jesus is talking about something else in this particular passage today. Let me reread the explanation that Jesus gives to this parable:
Text: Matthew 13.36-43
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!