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January 29th, 2012

I’m against not being against anything.

Matthew 13:24-30

January 29, 2012

Against

Bob: At the close of our Bible study Tuesday morning on the text we’ve just read, one of our group members referred to an interview aired on CBS with Joel Osteen, a very popular pastor, author, and TV preacher.  In that interview, Osteen was asked about the Mormon faith of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  Osteen answered, “What I see about Gov. Romney is that he says ‘I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He’s raised from the dead and he’s my savior.’ I see him as being a believer in Christ like me.”

I’m not particularly surprised that Joel Osteen didn’t have anything negative to say about Mormonism.  He doesn’t have anything negative to say about anybody or anything, as far as I know.  If the late Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina was “Senator No,” Joel Osteen is “Pastor Yes.”

I’ll come back to Mitt Romney and Mormonism a little later in the sermon, but it occurred to me that the Bible is not only a positive message.  Sometimes you have to be against things.  So when Pastor Paul and I were discussing this sermon the other day and he said, “This parable is against universalism,” I wondered if we shouldn’t preach a whole sermon together on what we’re against.

I’m against not being against anything.  I’m against spittoons in the sanctuary.  I’m against weekly rain on our parking lot-to-be all winter long.  In Narnia it was always winter and never Christmas.  In Hickory it’s always rain and no snow.  I’m against that.  Paul, what are you against?

Paul: I’m going to be pious.  I’m against my flesh.  Time and time again the first thing I want to do is typically of the flesh. And it’s dumb.  I’m against the Bible being just a book of suggestions that you might want to follow.  I’m against worship services that have to absolutely get out at 12:00.

I’m against abuse – child abuse, spouse abuse, elder abuse, pastor abuse, church abuse, animal abuse, grammar abuse, hair abuse, and makeup abuse.  I’m even against abuse abuse – which would be using the same word to describe makeup abuse and child abuse.

Paul: I lived in Virginia for four years.  I thought I was a Carolina fan and an NC State fan, but I really just hated hearing about UVA and Virginia Tech.  You might be able to do that with sports.  But when you are for Jesus and for Christ’s kingdom, you are by default against a lot of things.  You will be against your flesh, against the kingdom of the enemy.

The parable (24-30)

Bob: Jesus does exactly that in this parable.  He’s for a harvest, so he’s against weeds.  He’s for a farmer trying to gain a good harvest, so he’s against cowardly, hit-and-run, nocturnal enemies.  He’s for maximizing the harvest, so he’s against overzealously and prematurely pulling up weeds.

A parable is a true-to-life story that illustrates one main spiritual point.  This story is true-to-life.  The Romans actually had a law against what the enemy did. 

After the farmer planted his field with wheat seed, his enemy went out at night and scattered some darnel seed in the same field.  Then he skipped town.  We don’t know why they were enemies; it’s irrelevant to the act of agricultural terrorism.  Whatever their dispute had been in the past, this took the disagreement to a new level.

Darnel (zizania in Greek) looks like wheat as it grows.  But when the grain appears, it’s a different color and is actually poisonous.  By the time the plant exposes its forgery, it’s too late.  The roots of wheat and weed have been intertwined, and cannot be separated without destroying the good crop.

The farmer in our story is wealthy, because he has servants.  They are less experienced and less wise than their boss.  They want to rush into the fields and root out the faux grain.  The chief knows the separation must wait.  They must patiently wait until the harvest, when the painstaking process of separating the wheat will take place.  At that point the darnel will be burned.

The explanation (36-43)

Paul: This is a great parable that, unlike others like the parable of the fig tree, has an explanation that invites us in to understand the technical parallels.  Some of the things in this parable are –

·       The field is the world.

·       The seeds are what God himself has planted – those who are good, who will be in the kingdom of heaven.

·       The weeds are planted by the enemy.  It’s not politically correct to talk about Satan or hell.  But here’s Christ saying Satan is the enemy, the devil.  He is the one who sows the false seeds, illegitimate seeds.  They don’t belong to the family.

·       The harvesters are the reapers at the final judgment.  This is why this is not about church discipline.  The reapers are angels.  We have to go back to the text.  The workers in the field want to pull up the weeds.  The farmer says, “No.”  Wait until the end and let the “holy ones” do it.

·       I love the analogy of us being wheat.  The seed becomes something else that we can’t see right now.  If you looked at seed and then at a loaf of bread, you would wonder, “How did the seed become bread?” 

·       But then you also have this judgment, this finality, this separation between those who belong to God and those who belong to the enemy, Satan.  There is a definite ending point to this text.  This is a great commentary on what happens at the end time.

Against universalism

Bob: The one main point of the parable is that God is the judge, not you. This is where we come back to what Jesus is against in this parable.  To be sure, he’s for some things in the parable, but let’s talk about what he’s against.

As Paul said Thursday, Jesus is against universalism.  Universalism is the idea that everybody makes it.  We’ll all wind up in the same happy place.

It’s not just this parable.  Jesus spoke not only of heaven; he also talked about hell.  On more than one occasion, he clearly spoke of judgment at the end of the age – of a final separation between good and evil, including good people and evil people.  In Matthew 24, the descriptive categories are sheep and goats.  Here they are wheat and weeds.

In contrast to Pastor Yes, there are times when we have to distinguish between what’s true and what’s false.  Don’t take this to mean I’m against Mitt Romney for President (actually, I’m against pretty much everyone running, which is to say I’m not excited to vote for any of them).  But when Joel Osteen suggests that a Mormon saying Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again is the same as an orthodox Christian saying it, he’s either undiscerning about his theology or his words.

I’m a little weary of people asking the wrong questions of the wrong people.  Don’t ask I think Mormonism is a cult.  There’s too much baggage with that word.  And don’t ask me as an Evangelical Christian why I think Mormonism is outside the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy.  Ask Mitt Romney or Mormon leaders why their faith left the historic church and rejected its teachings.  If there’s no essential difference, let them affirm the Apostles’ Creed and come on back in the fold.  Mormonism believes that every man (sorry, ladies) can die and rise again to be a Son of God, just like Jesus.  That’s not what we mean when we confess our faith in him as Savior and Lord.  He is uniquely the eternal God in human flesh.

I am not the judge of Mitt Romney or any other individual Mormon.  They have to face the Judge themselves at the Great Harvest.  But I’m also not going to say it doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus as long as you’re sincere.  Jesus is against universalism.  There’s a final separation between wheat and weeds, good and evil.

Paul: I wanted to say something about this as well.  Have you ever had someone talking about the same thing you’re talking about, using the same words, but you realize you don’t mean the same thing?

Bob: It’s called marriage, Paul.

Paul: Oh!  Very true.  But it’s a little like if you asked a Mormon and said, “Describe to me a tree.”  And they said, “Well the tree is pink and polka dotted.  It’s purple and has stripes running through it.”  You know they’re not talking about a tree like you are.  So when they talk about Christ, they’re talking about someone entirely different than who we’re talking about it in the orthodox faith.

Against presumption

Paul: Jesus is also against presumption.  Presumption is the notion that someone who appears to be saved has the gospel, and it’s also the hardened notion that appears not to have the gospel is beyond saving.  Does that make sense?

That’s this idea that at the outset these workers who look at the weeds can tell the difference.  We as people are the wheat and the weeds in this story.  We look at others and think we can tell which they are.

When Christ says, “Wait.  Don’t presume to be able to judge.”  That is a double-sided blade for us as believers.   Especially here in the Bible belt, when we go to work or the soccer game or to the movies or hang out with our neighbor, when someone comes dressed like us, their children look like we do, we presume that they are saved.  Our presumption is quite honestly wrong.  They have not repented and turned to Jesus Christ.    They talk the talk really well.

We have to remember that the weed (and we can’t use the colloquial term in one of our commentaries, because it’s a bad word) is “illegitimate wheat.”  It really does look like wheat. 

On the other hand, we have to remember there are a lot of people we have looked and thought, “They are too far gone.  Look at them.  They’re a weed.  There’s no better place for them than hell, and I can’t wait ‘til they get bundled up and sent there.”  We are also presuming that Christ cannot save. 

That is the exact reason why the thief on the cross confesses Christ moments, minutes, hours before he dies, and is saved.  A weed up until the harvest when the farmer turned him into wheat.  So we cannot presume, cannot have our hearts hardened either way.  We must be ready to share the gospel.  When Paul tells Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist,” we all should write our names in the blank and say, “Paul…Corinth…you all…do the work of an evangelist.  Share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Against impatience

Bob: You and I want people to change now.  They are self-destructing and headed toward hell.  We shut people out of our lives because we have given up on them.  The whole point of the parable is to be against impatience.  God doesn’t work on my pace and in the ways and times I want him to work.

This parable is often thought to be about church discipline.  That is, be careful about prematurely rooting out false Christians from the church because you might destroy some genuine, if immature, believers in the process. The story probably has application there, but remember Jesus said “the field is the world” (v. 38).  And the church hadn’t even been established yet.

Jesus’ application seems even broader than the church.  At his moment of history, God had stepped into the world, and Jesus was announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom.  Once the announcement has been made, the temptation is to ask, “Whose side are you on – good or evil?”  Make the choice, and make it now.  We get very impatient with people who won’t repent, won’t change, won’t even place themselves in the place where they can be influenced by what’s true and right.

I would love for people to make the choice and make it now.  It is presumptuous for anyone to think there will be an infinite number of new chances to choose. 

It takes different lengths of time and different situations for people to come to Christ.  I’m the last one to give up on a conflict or a problem or a marriage or a person who is far from God.  I am against impatience, especially when I see it in me.  Because God is the Judge, I don’t have to accept any slice in time as the end of the story.

Yesterday I was listening to a woman named Meredith Brock share her story on an mp3 download from Elevation Church in Charlotte.  Meredith’s mother was a prostitute and her father was addicted to alcohol and drugs.  When she was growing up her family moved from house to house, her dad from jail to jail.  Knowing her family history, you would have had reason to do what many others had done, and assume she would never amount to anything.  She even gave up on herself.

Meredith is now married to a pastor, and her life is evidence of the kind of transformation that can only happen by grace.  What if her “weed” had been pulled too soon?  What if teachers or friends or a fiancé had pushed her out of their circle, assuming she was trapped in a cycle of fate?

We too quickly rush to judgment – not only about a person’s present but about their potential.  Sure, some of the plants in the field will turn out to be weeds – but you can’t know which ones.  There’s always the God-factor.  I’m against impatience.  There’s time for transformation until the moment Jesus sends his harvesters to the fields.  Be patient.

Against indifference

Paul: Indifference in a southernism is, “It’s goin’ to be how it’s goin’ to be.”

Here’s an example.  I’m convinced by the lake in Hickory with boats, cars, and a parking lot in process (it’ll be done in about four years) and what do we do we have on or property?  A bear!  Really. 

Do you know why?  Because our kids eat outside on Wednesday nights, and what do they not do after they eat?  Big shock: clean up.  So yours truly is walking around at 9:30 at night on a Wednesday night, limping because of some dumb game we played in youth that I’ve gotten hurt at.  It’s raining or freezing cold and I’m trying to lock up.  And quite often there will be a table full of trash – half-eaten this, one bite taken out of this, full cups of sweet tea sitting at that table.  Yogi Bear’s delight!

I confess to you that quite often I would pass by and say, “It’s goin’ to be how it’s goin’ to be,” and leave all that for our wonderful janitor to pick up.  Indifference is one of those things that come with age.  Indifference is what you and I as older believers have to be on guard against. 

I’ve seen that play out in how we treat people.  “It’s goin’ to be how it’s goin’ to be.”  He’s going to be an alcoholic.  She’s going to be an adulteress. 

But that’s not what Jesus says.  We must battle against indifference.  Remember, these weeds were created by the enemy.  I know any of us who as Americans say when our enemies are plotting against us, we say, “It’s goin’ to be how it’s goin’ to be.”

No, we don’t wait for something to happen.  We pray, “Lord God, strengthen your church so that we may defend your church.  Work against the plans of your enemy.”  That’s what Paul tells the church at Ephesus in chapter six.  We are at war.  You cannot afford to be indifferent.

The Gospel

Bob: Wheat and weeds.  It comes down to that, doesn’t it? 

The main point of this parable is that God is the judge, and not you.  Both parts of that are important. You’re not the judge, but there is a judgment.

There are also other parts of the parable that are significant parallels to reality, as Pastor Paul has pointed out. 

Finally, there are insignificant details, or places where the analogy breaks down.  One of those is that, biologically speaking, a weed can’t become wheat, any more than rocky dirt can become deep, fertile soil.  Dirt can’t change itself, anymore than a plant can change itself. 

But Jesus definitely wants you getting to the end of this parable asking, “Which one am I?  Weed or wheat?”  The difference is your response to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Someone came to me recently and lovingly reminded me that sometimes I assume the gospel in my preaching.  He doesn’t hear enough of the gospel in my sermons.  I wrote about that conversation and my reflections on my blog.

Paul, what would you say is the gospel?

Paul: Nicodemus, a man who should have known everything about the Jewish law, came to Jesus on a dark night.  He appears in Jesus’ doorway and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answers, “You must be born again.”  This is the weed to wheat.  This is what you can’t do by yourself, but the Lord can do in you.

Before Jesus says, “I want you to receive the kingdom of God,” he says, “You must repent from what you have done wrong.”  Repent means to go in the opposite direction.  Your back is to your sin.  You have repented and turned from your sin. 

Once you have repented, you accept the free grace that is Jesus Christ and his cross.  I’ve said this and I’m going to say it again.  You and I must get over this notion that we’re really not that bad.  Let me be the example.

Let me use myself for an example.  My sin is so grotesque, so awful, it is so offensive to God, so offensive to his holiness and purity, that it couldn’t be a sheep or a ram that was sacrificed, it couldn’t be an apology or a bunch or promises from me.  My sin is so offensive that the blood of God’s own Son had to be given to purify me so I could have any relationship with God.

I repent from what I’ve done and then I call Christ not only Savior but Lord.  We get back to the farmer who planted wheat that grew up to bear fruit for the one who planted it.  And the fruit is evidence of the salvation working in me.  Are you bearing fruit in your life?

We have to ask the question, “Am I weed or wheat?”  When we die, it’s not going to matter whether we said a blessing when we ate, or went on a mission trip, or tithed, or went to church every Sunday, or knew 50 Bible verses, or knew the catechism, or went through Confirmation.  Jesus Christ will be standing there, and God the Father will ask, “What did you do with my Son?”  That’s it!

When we say, “I confessed him as Lord and Savior, and my sin, though they are many, were taken care of by his blood on the cross.  Because of his death and resurrection I went with him into the grave and so did my sin.  And now, Father, because of your Son I stand before you in the glory that is not my own but has been given to me by the death of your Son, Jesus Christ, that’s what I confess to you.”

And God will say, “Please enter in, my good and faithful servant.”  And we’ll say, “He called me good and faithful.  That doesn’t apply to me.”  And he’ll say, “You’re right.  It applies to my Son, and has been given to you.”  Can you say that about yourself?

Bob: The gospel is summarized by the Apostle Paul: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV).  God created us to be in relationship with him and with one another, and from the beginning of our race we have lived alienated lives from both God and neighbor.  So the unique Son of God (not a Son of God) stepped into space and time first to show us what perfect humanity looks like, and then to accept in his body and soul the full consequences of our sin – to take our hell for us.  Then he was gloriously raised to new life so that all who believe in him can join him in eternity.  When I embrace the uniqueness of Jesus, weed becomes wheat.

In a few moments we will ask our new members to affirm their faith in this gospel – “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died and rose again for my salvation.  He is my Lord and Savior.”  If you are feeling far from God and alienated from others, if you have tried all sorts of other ways to find meaning in life, come back to the simple humility of admitting you are broken and lost, and in need of what only Christ can do – forgive your sins and restore you to his purpose for you.  Amen.

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