In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s always interesting to me—and a little humorous—to consider the objections of atheists and skeptics against the Scriptures, Christianity, and what they think Christians believe about God. Because their objections have almost always been considered by Christians long before the atheist ever came around. For example, the “problem” of evil that has engaged so many thinkers, and the objection that is raised against a good, loving, all-powerful God on the basis of that problem. The fact is, the Scriptures take up the issue themselves starting in Genesis 3 and running through Job and the Psalms all the way to Jesus and Paul. And, really, is this a “problem” for atheists and skeptics? Usually, it’s just a pipe to beat Christians with. It’s not really necessary to prove that something you don’t believe in doesn’t exist. Christians have to struggle with it, and they have for a very long time. We have never ignored it, and if skeptics would bother to actually read a little deeper in the history, they might see that Christians have offered responses to nearly all the objections raised against the Christian claims.
But whatever the case, neither Jesus nor Paul ignore the way the world is. But things are worse than even the atheists think. It’s worse than claiming that there are really bad things in the world, and really bad people, and yet God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and loving. Worse than that, the Christian claim is not just that God can do something about it and wills to do something about it, but that He actually has done something about it; that Jesus actually is the answer and the solution and the action of God taken against sin, evil, and death. But as when Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven, it’s hard to see that anything has changed for the paralytic. In that case, Jesus tells the man to get up and walk, in direct connection to Jesus’ forgiveness of his sins. And yet, we haven’t seen the healing part. The big problem for us, with which we struggle every single day, is the difference between what we see all around us and what God says.
And Jesus tells a parable about it. In the face of mounting pressure, tension, opposition against Jesus and, therefore, against His disciples, Jesus tells them what is going to happen. He tells them in chapter 6 to seek first the Kingdom, the Reign and Rule, of God. And now He tells them what that Reign is like. It’s like a man who sows good seed in His field. He sows good seed. There’s nothing wrong with the seed or with the sowing. But while the farmer sleeps, an enemy comes and sows weeds right on top of the good seed. And the word for weeds is something called darnel, or ryegrass, and if you look up a picture of it, it looks very much like wheat. So at some points, at least, they are indistinguishable from each other. They are sown in the exact same place and they grow up in those places and they are sometimes entangled and intertwined.
And there’s nothing that we can do about it now. Jesus tells His disciples that there is nothing that His servants can do to destroy and rid this world of sin, evil, and temptation. They will remain until the end. To try to destroy evil now would lead to destroying some of the sons of the Reign of God. This is the way it is until the completion of this age. And Jesus knows how it is. And Paul knows how it is. Paul says that the whole creation groans with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. The whole creation is longing for the day when it will be freed from its subjection to futility. The most dire environmental alarmists have nothing on St. Paul. The creation has been subjected to futility. The evil has been sown right over the top of the good seed of the Lord.
That is how it is now, and we see it clearly all around us. The world is like this. Even the church is like this. The place and the people where love, peace, patience, and forgiveness ought to be more in evidence than anywhere else in the world, and yet the Church militant sometimes appears to be the only organization that shoots its own wounded. Great sin and great hypocrisy are often revealed in the Church, even on the part of pastors. We grow discouraged, even to the point of wanting to protect ourselves and withdraw (see Gibbs, Matthew 11:2-20:34, 711). We see how things are, and Jesus says it is real. This is how things are. But it will not always be this way. Jesus has not forgotten the seed He has sown. He has not forsaken His fields or His harvest. He tells His disciples that He is with them all the days until the completion of this age, when the harvest will begin. And on that day, all the causes of sin, of stumbling and falling, all temptation and evil and injustice, will be removed forever from His Kingdom, where He reigns. Why not now? Why not today? We are not told, except that His patience means salvation. And the only thing that will keep those plants from being destroyed by the weeds of the evil one is the promise of the Sower. Like a farmer who will bring in His harvest; like a tiny mustard seed that grows unexpectedly into a large tree where birds can nest; like a woman putting leaven into a huge amount of dough, so that it slowly works its way through until the entire thing is leavened; so will the invisible, but very real, promise of Jesus be brought by Him to its fulfillment.
The problem begins when we focus on the weeds and the fact that we cannot see the mustard plant growing or the yeast working its way through the dough. Instead, Jesus turns our eyes to the Sower and the Planter and the Leavener. He is the one who reigns, even now, though we do not yet see it. It’s true: all we have is a promise in the face of everything we see and experience. But the only question is not which one is real, it is whether the one who promises is trustworthy. Is Jesus trustworthy? Can He be believed? Does He do what He says? Did He rise from the dead? He did indeed, and so we believe Him when He says that we will rise too. We indeed groan along with creation, but our hope is that along with that creation we wait for the redemption of our bodies. In that hope we were saved. We wait for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness—and only righteousness—dwells.
The Lord is not slow to keep His promises, as some understand slowness. He will bring this age to its completion in His own good time. And then all sin, all evil, all death, all injustice will be removed, and He will gather in His righteous harvest, and we will shine with His everlasting light. Let the one who has ears hear.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/21/17