Friday, 18 July 2008

Children of the kingdom and children of the evil one

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

This is a challenging parable. It is not challenging in the sense that it is hard to understand. It is actually very clear, and Jesus tells us what it means. It is challenging in what it teaches us.

The good seed stands not for the Word of God, but for the 'children of the kingdom'. The bad seed stands for the 'children of the evil one'. It is, in this world, very hard to tell them apart. The commentators talk about a weed called darnel, which is virtually indistinguishable from wheat, until the ears form. It was actually a crime under Roman law to sow darnel among wheat as an act of revenge.

So these two: the children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one live together in God's world; they grow together in God's world; and it is only at the end of time that they will be separated.

There are a number of very clear - and quite difficult - principles in this story.

1. We are not all children of God.

Of course, to Jesus first hearers this would have sounded very obvious. They thought that as Jews they were children of the kingdom, and that the Gentiles were not children of the kingdom.

To us today, when often we hear talk about the universal fatherhood of God, this is very challenging. One of the most popular hymns that we sing begins with the words, 'Dear Lord and Father of mankind'. We say, 'We're all children of God.'

But that is not what the bible teaches. It is not what Christian tradition has taught. In fact, the bible teaches (and it is very clear on this) that even though we were created to be children of God, by nature we are not children of God. By nature we have become children of the evil one. Yes, we have been created by God: each one of us. Yes, we are unique and special. But no, we are not naturally children of God.

The amazing thing is that even though we are not by nature children of God, every single person is a potential child of God. John is so clear on this, when he writes at the beginning of his gospel (John 1:12): 'To all who received him [Jesus], who believed (put their trust) in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.'

So we are not all children of God. We need to become children of God.

That teaching can be misused. It often has been. It has been used to justify slavery, bigotry, racism and even genocide. And we need to move straight on to the second principal.

2. The decision who is and who is not a child of God is not one for us to make.

It has to be left to God at the end of time. The servants in the story ask the owner if they should pull up the weeds: 'No', he says, 'because you might pull up wheat as well'.

The history of the church is littered with the debris that comes when people try to establish a 'pure' church, a ‘believers’ church. They have tried to include the true believers and exclude the false believers.

But we can’t do it.

i) We will never be able to fully see into a person's heart

ii) We cannot see the end. Someone who seems to us totally beyond the reach of God turns to him at the end

Of course there are times when, as the church, we need to uphold church discipline. There are times when we have to say to a man or woman, 'what you are doing is incompatible with church membership’. There may also be times when people are excluded from fellowship or communion. But that does not mean we are in any position to condemn them as children of the evil one. No, in fact we are told that the reason for church discipline is in order to lead people to repentance.

Indeed, the principle of love, a love which ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’ (1 Corinthians 13:7), and a love which is the fundamental hermeneutic principal of the church, leads us to work for and hope for the best for all people.

Only God knows a person’s heart and only God knows the end. So it is only God - who delegates his authority to the Son of Man (there are many parallels in this passage with Daniel 7) - who can judge and who can separate.

3. There will be separation.

On the last day, ‘he will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil’ (v41).

Jesus in Matthew’s gospel speaks a great deal about judgement and separation.

This judgement will be based on whether we stand by Jesus or stand against him. It will be based on whether we stand beside the least of his brothers or sisters when they are in need, or whether we ignore them. It will not be about whether we called Jesus ‘Lord’, but whether we lived with him as Lord. It is not about believing in him with the back of our head; it is about whether we have followed him, trusted him, obeyed him, loved him and served him. It is about whether we have received him or rejected him. Judgement will rest on whether he knows us or does not know us, whether we are his or not his.

And I am talking about us, you and me. I am not talking here about other people: 'those who have never heard', ‘those who have been good Muslims or Hindus’, and so on. They're not the issue.

I'm talking about us: you and me who have heard. Coming to church is a dangerous thing to do. You cannot claim that you have not heard. We have been offered forgiveness and life. We have been offered the opportunity to follow Jesus. We have been offered the opportunity to become a child of God.

We are not in a position to judge whether someone else is a child of the kingdom or a child of the evil one. As I’ve said, the principal of love makes us always believe the best. But we are called to judge ourselves.

Let me repeat. It is not about how good we are, although our works will be judged and that which is good will stand; it is about which direction we are facing. Are we living for ourselves: for my family, my career, my safety and comfort, my hobby or cause - the key word is my - or are we living for Jesus, with Jesus. Because Jesus has promised that 'whoever comes to him, he will never turn away'.

4. There is a glorious destiny for the righteous.

Tom Wright, who I quote a fair bit, quotes a famous sermon from CS Lewis, who I quote even more often! In this sermon, Lewis declares that 'every human being, man, woman and child, you meet is someone who, if you saw them now as one day they will be, would either make you recoil from them in horror or would strongly tempt you to worship them'.

The righteous, we are told, will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Remember the transfiguration: Peter, James and John go up a mountain with Jesus. And suddenly they see Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, talk with him and reflect his glory. They were given a glimpse of what the Kingdom of the Father will look like in its glory.

I spoke a couple of weeks ago at an evening service about heaven. You can find it on the website, in a sermon on 2 Peter 1:13 If you think heaven is an other worldly place where we sit on clouds and play harps, please think again. Our Christian hope is the resurrection of the body: it is not about us going to another place. It is about heaven coming down to earth, and all that is rubbish here being gathered up and thrown out. There will be no cause of sin, no self-centredness that listens to the lies that tell us we can live without God, and there will be no evil. It is about this world being as it was meant to be. It is about us being what we were meant to be. It is about being with Jesus, being with Jesus’ people and about being like Jesus.

And as for the wicked .. I really do think that we should be very careful before we presume to pronounce on the destiny of 'all who do evil'. The passage here talks about them being gathered up, ‘thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’.

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were thrown in the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar. They came through it because one like a son of man was with them. Those who threw them into the furnace were burnt up.

We leave the destiny of the children of the evil one to the God of love, of justice and of compassion.

So four principles

1. We are not all children of the Kingdom

2. We are not to presume to judge who is and who is not a child of the Kingdom

3. There will be separation

4. There is a glorious destiny for the righteous

So what? I suggest three things

1. We need to judge ourselves.

Am I a child of the kingdom, or a child of the evil one? Do I pray, 'Your kingdom come?' or 'My kingdom come'? Have I come to Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Have I received him? Have I chosen to follow him?

Jesus said, 'Whoever comes to him, I will never turn away'.

2. We do not judge others.

We cannot presume to judge the eternal destiny of others.

I am not saying there can be no church discipline. There has to be, and the bible is clear about that.

But even if there is church discipline, even if there is discernment about what is and what is not godly, it is not our job to decide who is weed and who is wheat, who is a child of the kingdom and who is a child of the evil one. That is Jesus' job at the end of time.

3. And this is the emphasis of the parable - we need to be patient. The owner says, 'Let both [wheat and weed] grow together until the harvest'.

We look and see evil around us. We long for God to sort it out, to weed it out. And so we try to do so, our way - building the perfect church, crusading against the infidel, burning the heretics. They've all been tried.

We need to leave it to him. He will do the weeding, but he will do it in his way and in his time.

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