Saturday, December 02, 2006

Stewards of Life, Pt. 1: "The Righteous WIll Shine Like the Sun"

One summer (2007), Pastor Michael, a Chinese missionary with our denomination, was on furlough from his work in Peru. He and his wife decided to visit Los Angeles area pastors to share about their work with coworkers and friends they often see at annual conferences.

A month after the missionaries were gone, I received an e-mail from the same e-mail saying the missionary is “on a two weeks trip to three african countries” and require a “sum of $2000 so that i can pay up my hotel bill,” listing his hotel name, address and customer service number. Immediately I alerted all the area pastors of a possible scam. The scammer even had the audacity to respond to me, nonchalantly stating, “i am hereby confirming the authenticity of this email because i sent it in good faith.” Next, I challenged the sender “if you are the real one, type your Chinese name for us,” which he failed to respond. On second notice, I noticed he spelled “Michael” wrongly, using “Micheal” instead.

A local pastor informed us that the real missionary is on a plane on the way to New York, and definitely not in Nigeria. This “Michael C” even sent an Instant Message to a pastor friend to consider helping him in paying off his hotel expenses – transcript below:
Michael C: Hello
Pastor: Good morning, Pastor C!
Michael C: It's evening here, did’nt you get my email
Pastor: Evening? Are you in Europe somewhere?
Michael C: i am in africa, i sent you an email requesting for help from yo
Pastor: REally? I haven't got the email yet. I just got in office this morning and turned on my laptop.
(6 minutes lapse)
Michael C: so what do you say to my request? are you there?
Pastor: I am focused in reading your email right now. Can't respond yet. Thanks!
(8 minutes lapse)
Michael C: okay leave me an offline as i am leaving here right will come back in the morning tio check my email,

The Chinese have a saying, “Do not have a heart to harm others; however, be not wanting of a heart cautious of others.”

In God’s church today are scammers, swindlers, schemers, scoundrels and saboteurs of all kinds. In God’s kingdom, however, impostors, hypocrites and trespassers will not inherit or enter God’s kingdom. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is exclusive to Matthew. Matthew 13:24 is the first of four occurrences of this phrase Matthew uses in his parables (Matt 18:23, 22:2, 25:1) to devastating effect to encourage discouraged believers, to persuade undecided seekers and to warn convincing wannabes.

Why are charlatans forbidden in God’s kingdom? How does Kingdom firewall work? What are believers to do in the meantime?

Be Tenacious: Do Not Be Intimidated
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. (Matt 13:24-26)
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. (Matt 13:37-38)

One Sunday morning, everyone in one bright, beautiful, tiny town got up early and went to the local church. Before the services started, the townspeople were sitting in their pews and talking about their lives, their families, etc. Suddenly, Satan appeared at the front of the church. Everyone started screaming and running for the front entrance, trampling each other in a frantic effort to get away from the evil incarnate.

Soon everyone was evacuated from the church, except for one elderly gentleman who sat calmly in his pew, not moving... seemingly oblivious to the fact that God's ultimate enemy was in his presence. Now this confused Satan a bit, so he walked up to the man and said, “Don't you know who I am?”

The man replied, “Yep, sure do.”

Satan asked, “Aren't you afraid of me?”

“Nope, sure ain't,” said the man.

Satan was a little perturbed at this and queried, “Why aren't you afraid of me?”

The man calmly replied, “Been married to your sister for over 48 years.”

It’s hard to separate good wheat from bad tares in the fields before harvest. The word good is “kalos” (v 24) in Greek. It means good literally or morally. In agricultural terms today, the good seed is FDA-approved and the gold standard for wheat; it gives good return for its investment and great joy to the farmer. It is honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth, true to its roots seed. The good seeds were unaffected; it did not a problem and did not become a problem even when the tares invaded uninvited, unannounced, unchecked, and unguarded.

In a perfect world, wheat should be free from pests, diseases and weeds since they were kept in the master’s field (v 24), but plant life in a fallen world is not that simple. Organisms, creatures and people can overrun their habitat and tinker with their existence. In the parable, an enemy or competitor sneaked in and planted tares among the wheat and left. The enemy (v 25) is “echthros,” from the word “hate.” The Hated One, true to his name and nature, was hostile, adversarial and sneaky. He couldn’t bear to see people, things and life get going and do well; he couldn’t stand to leave them alone, so he planted false grain among the good grain. The tares or darnel occur only in this New Testament passage and nowhere else. Tares are more than just weeds, even though weeds have been defined broadly as unwanted plants; tares are closer in size, shape and specimen to the original plant. For a while, the difference is minimal, insignificant and unnoticeable.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says that tare is equivalent to Arabic zuwan, the name given to several varieties of darnel of which Lolium temulentum, the “bearded darnel” most resembling wheat but is, in fact, degenerated wheat. Approaching harvest it is carefully weeded out from among the wheat by women and children. Zuwan is commonly used as chickens feed; it is not poisonous to human beings unless infected with the mold ergot.

However, not all was lost. In the end, the good seed “sprouted and formed heads” (v 26 “blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit” KJV) but the weeds only “appeared” – weeds’ nature and status did not change. The Greek rendition for the good seed was “the blade sprouted and the fruit yielded.” The good seed was spectacular, a beauty and a sight to behold when ripe. The blade or stalk and the wheat or grain were in full bloom, complementing each other and sprouting stoutly and magnificently to the sun. They were green and gold in color and they yielded good fruit and food for human consumption but the bad seed yielded inedible seed, good only for chicken feed. The good seed’s yield was outstanding, timely and cherished, but the bad seed was lifeless, monotonous, dull - an eyesore, a nuisance and a hazard.

Be Tactful: Do Not Be Ignorant
27 “The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 “'An enemy did this,' he replied. “The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 “'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. (Matt 13:27-29)

Ruth Bell Graham, wife of international evangelist Billy Graham, shares the true account of a young college student from India by the name of Pashi, who once told her, “I would like to believe in Christ. We of India would like to believe in Christ. But we have never seen a Christian who was like Christ.”

Ruth Graham then consulted Dr. Akbar Haqq about what might be the best response to Pashi's challenge. Haqq answered wisely and forcefully, “That is quite simple. I would tell Pashi, 'I am not offering you Christians. I am offering you Christ.'” (Decision, 10/2000, p 39)

In truth, there is always room for one more sinner at the cross and one more hypocrite at the church. It’s been said, “The church is perfect until you joined” and “If you ever find a perfect church, don’t join it. It would stop being perfect the minute you joined it! Don’t spoil it for others.”

One of the names Jesus liked to refer to himself is the title “houseowner” (v 27, Matt 10:25, 13:27, 20:1, 21:33, Luke 13:25, 14:21) or “house despot” in Greek, not a very nice term today but it means the One with absolute and unquestioned power and authority over his domain. The biblical house despot or sovereign has fields (Mt 13), orchards and property (Mt 20:1, 21:33) to his name, jobs to offer (Mt 20:1), money to spend (Lk 14:21), servants at his disposal (Mt 13:27) and tenants that pay rent (Mt 21:33).

The amazing thing about this house sovereign was that he is wise and patient, never rash or troubled. He is aware, observant and knowledgeable of things, and never ignorant, uninformed and idealistic about things. The savvy owner is never in the dark, afraid to act or upset with things.

The servants suggested to “pull them up” or “gathered them together” (v 28), but the house sovereign sensibly forbade them to do so. They might end up loosening the soil, tramping the plants and endangering the wheat, if not breaking the workers’ backs. The uprooting will have to wait till harvest. Then the good-for-nothing tares/weeds will be good for something: fuel, hay or sticks for fire. The servants had good and thoughtful plans, but the house sovereign had great and better plans. He said, “Let them grow together,” but only “until the harvest.” The Greek term “grow together” (sun-auxano) occurs only once in the Bible even thought the regular term “grow” occurs 23 times. The bad seed did not grow to fruition; they were merely showing up (v 26 “appeared”) and growing together or attaching themselves to and feeding off the good seed. They aged but they did not ripen, emerged but did not excel, grew but they did not mature. They were never fruitful, tasty or edible. The bogus seed just enlarged in form, increased in size and took up space.

The time of harvest is not your standard time “chronos” in Greek, but “kairos” (v 30) or “opportunity” or “season.” Man is governed by time, but the Lord is guided by opportunity. It’s not that the Lord did nothing in the meantime; he had ordered the servants not to tamper with things in their own way and according to their own understanding. They complicated things in helping. The more hands that were offered, the more they were a handful. The Chinese say, “More help make things busier.”

Be True: Do Not Be Impatient
30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'“
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matt 13:30, 40-43)

Gardening is not my or my wife’s department. Like most houseowners I have a gardener, who comes weekly for a bargain price of $50 per month. I know as much gardening as I know about cars, which is not much! My previous gardener just retired but he was an exceptional gardener.

One year the gardener alerted me to bumps on my front lawn and adjacent grass that was brown, parched and barren. The Latino man couldn’t quite say what it was – probably a gopher or a mole - but he knew what to do about it. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so I nodded! He said he could get something from the hardware stores for $10 to get rid of it and the extra work would cost me another $10. Again, I nodded!

Before two years had passed in my home, I noticed that some small shrubs near the house planted by the previous owner were expert climbers. Like a page taken from Cinderella, the tough plant had blanketed one side of the house walls. I tried in vain to pull them down. Knowing that my problem was not going away, I asked the gardener for help and, lo and behold, he terminated the creeping plant in no time.

The servants (doulos) in the parable were ordinary workers; they were not gardeners. They were experts in the kitchen and with the utensils but not in the fields and with farming. Spatulas, ladles and pasta forks do not extend like winnowing forks, rakes, hoes, shovels, and shears do. Powerful as the cleaver is, it won’t do damage or accomplish much in gardening or harvesting. Cutlery doesn’t cut it in the fields. Further, kitchen gadgets are not gardening tools. Chefs with their pots and pans and cookware can only do so much without fire.

The only harvesters or reapers known to the Bible are the angels in heaven. The noun “harvester” (vv 30, 39) make its only appearance in the Bible, although the Greek verb for harvest or reap occurs 21 times in the Bible. The naked or untrained eye is no match for the masking wheat, but the masking wheat is no match for the angels’ tools. They (plural) will comb for tares field by field, row by row and plant by plant. Nothing will escape their piercing eyes, thorough examination or harvesting kit. Further, they will not use kitchen or even gardening tools, but farm tools such as axe, scythe, sickle, plough, and pitching forks. People’s methods, labor and resourcefulness are in vain; the angels are the true harvesters, chosen, qualified and fit for the job.

On judgment day, two things will burn in fire: chaff (Matt 3:12, Luke 3:17) and tares/weeds (v 38). The chaff is light as nothing and the tare is full of nothing. One is a lightweight and the other is a space invader. The tares are children of the Wicked one (v 38) or the devil (v 39) and they offend (“scandalize” in Greek) and do evil (“practice lawlessness” in Greek) (v 41). The three actions by the angels are: bringing them, binding them and burning them (v 30). The Bible does not take the work of the devil lightly; there are 38 references to “the devil” in Greek. He is the first cause of scandalous, striving and shameful things. He uses ill-natured, ill-bred, ill-mannered and ill-will people to stumble godly people, spilt the church and soil good doctrine and true beliefs. A scandal in Greek is a trap or a snare. Evil and its adherents will wreak havoc and do damage but they will not be unstopped, unchecked or undefeated. Not only do bad people scandalize or are immoral, they practice lawlessness, majoring in unlawful, unethical and uncivil activities.

Evil will meet its match at the end of the age (v 40); this end is “altogether-ending” in Greek (sun-teleia) different from the regular “end” that occurs 28 times in the Bible. All six references to this particular word in the Bible continue using the phrase “of the age.” (Matt 13:39, 13:40, 13:49, 24:3, 28:20, Heb 9:26). It means the consummation of the world.

The word burn up (kata-kaio) in verse 40 is not the regular “burn” word for light burning or shining (Matt 5:15, Luke 12:35); it is an intense and a raging fire that will burn to the ground and consume wholly all things in its path.

Five times the word “gathering together,” also translated as “pulling” or “weeding” by NIV, appears prominently (vv 28, 29, 30, 40, 41) in the passage, contrasting the slim pickings of men with the ripe harvest of angels. The angles are superior pickers by far. Like seasoned fruit-pickers, they know good fruit from bad, good seed from bad and good people from bad. The word “gather together” (sul-lego), not just merely “gathering,” is a compound verb, guaranteeing quality, efficiency and meticulousness.

The fiery furnace (v 42) is also known as the gigantic furnace in Revelation (Rev 9:2) that spew smoke that darkened even the sun and sky. For all its disguise and all the fuss, the tare was never an improvement or a close imitation of the wheat. They were bad to the core and known by its fruits.

Conclusion: William James said, “Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is” (Tan # 1680). Are you wheat or tare? Are you food for life or are you feed for chicken and fuel for fire? Are you delighted or dismayed that God knows the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, the occasion and the opportunity for harvest?

Discussion Questions (Contributed by Daniel Hung)
1. The message of God’s Kingdom is a major theme of Jesus’ teaching. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is exclusive to Matthew and Matthew 13:24 and is the first of four occurrences of this phrase Matthew uses in his parables (Matt 18:23, 22:2, 25:1).
What do you learn about God’s kingdom from these verses?
2. Why does God allow good and evil to co-exist (sometimes evil even seems to have prevailed) until “the end of the age”?
3. What are the characteristics of “sons of the kingdom” and “sons of the evil one” (v38)?
How can they be distinguished in the world and in the church?
4. What will happen at “the end of the age” (v40) - the consummation of the world?

Reflection Question -
1. How will the knowledge of God’s Kingdom and judgment at the end of the age shape your worldviews and how may you live your lives differently? (See Mt 6:33) Can you think of any examples?


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