Friday, October 30

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.   - Matthew 13:36-43

Jesus told many parables in His teaching, but He only took the time to explain the exact meaning of two of them: The Parable of the Sower, and this one - The Parable of the Wheat & the Weeds.  

In the agricultural society of Christ’s time, many farmers depended on the quality of their crops. An enemy sowing weeds would have sabotaged a business. The weeds in the parable were likely a poisonous darnel called zizania. This kind of weed appears almost identical to wheat until it nears maturity. Without modern weed killers, what would a wise farmer do in such a dilemma? Instead of tearing out the wheat with the tares, the landowner in this parable wisely waited until the harvest. After harvesting the whole field, the tares could be separated and burned. The wheat would be saved in the barn.

Jesus tells His disciples, and us, that the enemy in the parable is Satan. In opposition to Jesus Christ, the Devil tries to destroy Christ’s work by placing false believers and teachers in the world who lead many astray. 

We don’t need to look any further than the latest televangelist scandal to know the world is filled with professing “Christians” whose ungodly actions bring reproach on the name of Christ. But we are not to pursue such people in an effort to destroy them. For one thing, we don’t know if immature and innocent believers might be injured by our efforts. 

When we look back at our own history, at the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and the reign of “Bloody Mary” in England, we see the results of men taking upon themselves the responsibility of separating true believers from false - a task reserved for God alone. Instead of requiring these false believers to be rooted out of the world, and possibly hurting immature believers in the process, Christ allows them to remain until His return. At that time, angels will separate the true from false believers. 

In addition, we are not to take it upon ourselves to uproot unbelievers because the difference between true and false believers isn’t always obvious. Tares, especially in the early stages of growth, resemble wheat. Likewise, a false believer may resemble a true believer. 

In Matthew 7:22 Jesus warned that many profess faith but do not know Him. 
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

Jesus did not give us this parable so that we could spend our energy determining who is wheat and who are weeds. However, I think He does desire that we look into our own hearts to determine if we are living as wheat in God’s Kingdom, or as weeds in the world.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? -Unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  - 2 Corinthians 13:5 

Jeff Frazier

Thursday, October 29

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”  - Matthew 13:33

Let’s continue to examine this remarkable little parable that Jesus told about the Kingdom of God being like leaven. I am amazed at how much truth Jesus can pack into one simple little story like this.  

One of the amazing things about this little parable is how it challenges our conventional ideas about what God’s Kingdom should be like. There are several surprising and even subversive ideas in this little story. We can see how Jesus was teaching that the Kingdom starts out small, and grows slowly, but produces unmistakable results. We can also see how shocking it would have been for people to hear the Kingdom compared to the domestic activity of a woman baking bread.  

One of the most often overlooked and most surprising elements of the parable is the amount of flour that is used. It is often missed because it is not entirely evident in most English translations. “Three measures” is the usual translation for the original Greek “tria sata” which is a little over a bushel of flour (1.125 bushels, to be precise). That’s a ridiculously large amount of flour - you’d need a 100-quart Hobart mixer with a dough hook as big as your leg to knead it!  

Translating into kitchen measures, 1.125 bushels is 144 cups of flour.  Presuming we used a common recipe for basic white bread that uses 5 ½ cups of flour, 144 cups is enough to make 26 batches of bread of two loaves each, giving us a total of 52 loaves, each weighing about a pound and a half. If we’re frugal but not stingy, we can get 16 slices out of a loaf, yielding 832 slices, enough for 416 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (we’d need 33 jars of jelly, and 64 of peanut butter).  

What’s the message of the story? It’s simple: The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who wants to do more than feed her family. The kingdom announced by Jesus is like a woman who wants to feed the whole village. The kingdom of God is like a woman who wants to feed the world.  The kingdom is for everybody!

Additionally, the message of the Kingdom (the gospel) is meant to be passed on. The woman must save back a portion of the leaven each time she bakes bread in order to use it in the next batch. So too, when we are transformed by Christ, share a portion of His transforming grace with others! The leaven of God’s grace that is working its way into and through your heart and life doesn’t stop there... it is not enough that we ourselves are transformed by Jesus, He wants to spread the leaven of His gospel through us into the lives of others.  

Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, October 28

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”  - Matthew 13:33

The common interpretation of this parable is very similar to that given for the parable right before it, the parable of the mustard seed: that the kingdom of God starts out small and seemingly insignificant, but eventually grows in importance and in impact. While this is certainly an accurate understanding, some commentators have suggested that this parable has a much more radical -even subversive- edge to it. 

In this view, a parable’s purpose is to challenge the religious status quo, such that the core meaning of most of the parables is: “God is not like you thought.” The parable of the yeast would have been especially disturbing to his first century audience. All three of the elements of the analogy - the yeast, the woman, and the amount of flour - would have challenged the theological common sense of the day.

In fact, one of the oft-missed surprises of the parable was the analogy of the activity of God being compared with the domestic tasks of a woman. Women in first century Jewish society may have been better off than in some other cultures of the ancient world, but they were still second-rate citizens, considered weak, prone to sin, and in need of the guidance and protection of a father or husband.  

Throughout the gospels, Jesus is portrayed as treating women with extraordinary respect and compassion. But the parable goes further in depicting the woman as an agent of the kingdom, in her own sphere of influence. This more positive view of women is expressed most fully in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We have already seen how yeast was often considered a symbol of corruption and decay in Jewish tradition, so it would have been shocking for Jesus’ audience to hear the kingdom of God to be compared to yeast. His implication seems to be that the new principles of the kingdom of God will challenge traditional views about what the kingdom of God is really like.

In John 6:30, Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees to prove that He is indeed the Messianic King they have been waiting for: 
So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.   - John 6:30-35

This point is placed squarely into the parable of the leaven: The LEAVEN gives LIFE; the flour, or the world, is lifeless. Jesus made this clear in John 3:6: "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit." So now we see a clearer and truer picture as to the real significance of the Parable of the leaven: The Woman is Jesus Christ, the Leaven, his words his teaching, and the lifeless flower, is us, the whole world, in the flesh, and of the flesh, spiritually lifeless. We are lifeless lumps of dough until Christ places the life-giving leaven of His gospel into our lives!

Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, October 27

Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”  - Matthew 13:18-23

Jesus said the seed is the Word of God (Luke 8:11). It’s the only thing that has the power to change the human heart. Preaching alone won’t do it because we cannot talk people into a new heart. Our words may be interesting or inspiring, but they have no power in and of themselves. Programs won’t do it. The contemporary American church is mostly programmed up to its eyeballs. The typical suburban church is filled with programs for men, women, working-women, children, youth, adults, singles, newlyweds, newly-divorced, newly-remarried, single parents, senior adults, and we offer classes for those struggling with bad family backgrounds, abuse issues, addiction issues, plus we have sports teams, choirs, drama teams, Internet teams, and affinity groups for everything under the sun. 

I remember reading that the great puritan pastor of the mid 18th century, Jonathan Edwards, believed that the church should be the social center for the congregation. Well we’ve certainly followed his advice (at least in this area) and with a lot of good results, I should add. The numerous ministry programs that churches offer are not necessarily a bad thing at all. It’s necessary and good for the church in our day to reach people where they are. And if we don’t reach them, we can’t connect them or equip them or send them out to minister to others.

But it’s possible (and sadly all too common) to mistake busyness for godliness and activity for spirituality. The only thing that produces lasting growth is the Word of God. Preaching and programs without the Word, without the Gospel, may produce quick growth but they won’t last.  

This is one of the central teachings of the parable. Remember that there is nothing wrong with the seed. The same seed that the birds eat is the same seed that produces a good crop. And it’s the same seed that produces a plant that withers away or gets choked by the thorns. Faithful ministry cannot always be defined by results in the short term.  Many years ago while on a student mission trip to Ecuador, I met an old Quichua indian couple (that is one of the indigenous peoples of the Andes mountains in Ecuador). They were both believers and were living in a tiny remote village near the Colombian border. They were pastoring a little church of about 15 believers in a village of about 100 people. They told me about how years ago they had started a church in another village and in just 7 years it had grown from 1 believer to over 200 men, women, and children that had come to know Jesus Christ! The old man told me that he and his wife had been in this village for 13 years and they had seen only 8 people come to know and trust Jesus!  What happened? Had this couple suddenly become ineffective as servants of God? No, they were just working with much harder soil!  

In this parable, Jesus teaches us both patience and hope. We need patience because some of the seeds we sow will never produce the fruit we hope for, and some of the seeds we sow will look good at first, but end up disappointing us. But others will produce one hundred times more than we expect. And this is why we love, and serve, and preach and pray and keep on sowing seeds! 

There is good soil out there even though it’s not always easy to find - keep sowing!

Jeff Frazier