So, are you a weed or are you wheat? That is the question that is before us this morning. And I’ll be up front with you–it’s a trick question. Seriously. It’s a trick question. Why?
Let’s look at Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the Weeds and the Wheat to begin with. Jesus says, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
When you read this particular explanation, one thought usually goes through your head, “Man, I hope I am wheat. I hope I’m not a weed because I don’t want to get thrown into the fire!” And it’s interesting where our brains can go at this point. It usually goes in one of two directions.
First, the brain can take us to a place of great fear. For those of us with guilty consciences, we begin examining our lives and say, “Uh oh!” We say, “You know, I’m not such a good person down deep. I get angry a lot. I have impure thoughts and lust after people I am attracted to. I love making money and having wealth and possessions. I am not as charitable as I should. I drink too much. I am not as kind to others as I should be. I don’t do a very good job of taking care of God’s creation. I am broken. I must be a weed.” And we feel really, really bad about ourselves. We carry a burden of guilt and shame, and a little black cloud seems to follow us around. This is one response to this parable, and I think it’s the wrong one for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.
The other response to this parable is quite different. Some of us hear this parable and think, “Well, I’m not too bad of a person, I must be wheat! I will end up in eternal glory! I go to church regularly. I put money in the offering plate. I treat others decently. I’ve provided for my family. I love my spouse and my kids. I do a few nice things from time to time. Sure, I may have a few flaws, but my good deeds far outweigh those other moments I have. God won’t hold that against me because I am pretty decent.” When we are in this camp, we start feeling pretty good about ourselves, and before long, it actually has some interesting consequences. Before long, we begin to look at others who don’t measure up to our standards as weeds. “They just don’t have it all together like I do. Those folks aren’t quite doing what God asks them to do, and they’d better get with the program or they will be in for a hot time. That church over there doesn’t teach the Bible right, and God isn’t happy with them.” Before long, the folks who believe they are wheat end up with a self-righteous attitude that looks down on others who they believe are weeds. This is another common response to this parable, and again, I think it’s the wrong one.
Why would I say that these two responses are wrong? Here’s why: I don’t think God wants us to end up in either of these places. I don’t think God wants us to end up worried and frightened and depressed thinking we are a rotten worm who can’t do a lick of good. Neither do I think that God wants us to end up thinking ourselves better than anyone else with self-righteous behavior. Both of these responses are dead wrong.
But the question is how do we avoid falling into either one of these responses? How do we avoid thinking of ourselves as weeds? How do we avoid thinking of ourselves as wheat? –Especially when the pastor starts off his sermon by asking, “Are you weeds or wheat?” Remember, I told you that was a trick question.
The answer is, of course, the Gospel. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.” Remember, God did this, God took on flesh and entered into the world not because we were good–not because we were following His commands and His Law, but precisely the opposite. God did this because we could not follow His Law. We could not follow His commandments. We could not be good people. We were and are broken, and could not live up to God’s standards. We could not redeem the world and reconcile ourselves unto God, so He acted for us. He redeemed us while we were still sinners. Let’s put this in the terms of the parable, God sent His son into the world to be wheat while we were still weeds, and by grace, Jesus took our weediness upon Himself and faced the fire so that we could become wheat.
How does this happen? I think we have to remember that Jesus came into this world to do two things: to live the life we should live and to die the death we deserve. First, Jesus lived the life we should live. Jesus followed the commandments of God perfectly. He lived totally dependent upon God. He did not seek wealth and privilege. When Satan tempted Jesus, Jesus walked away. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus did the exact opposite of Adam and Eve–instead of seeking to save His own skin and be dependent upon Himself, Jesus sought obedience to the Father. Jesus did all the stuff we should have done. He lived the perfect life when we could not.
And then He died the death we deserved. Because of our selfishness, because of our desire to be gods ourselves, we issued into the world violence, death, disease, racism, sexism, warfare, and all sorts of evil. We were created to be the caretakers of creation, and as such we were the lynch pin for creation as well. When we rejected dependence on God for our own desires, we allowed all this stuff to happen, and we participate in it to this day! What should the penalty for all of this be? Nothing less than enduring the entire wrath of God. The only problem with that is, we could never endure that. Never. We would be blasted out of existence. And God knew this. He wanted more for His creation, and so He sent the Son to endure that wrath for us. Only God could endure God’s wrath, and Jesus suffered that on the cross. He died the death we deserved to justify us. And what does that justification mean?
Just this–and this is important–it doesn’t mean that we completely stop sinning. It doesn’t mean we have become perfect. It doesn’t mean we are perfect people who are perfect in our actions. Far from it. It means God looks at us differently. God looks at us through the actions of Jesus. Our sin has been taken up on Jesus, and Jesus’ righteousness has been imparted to us. In other words, we are still weeds, but because of what Jesus has done, God sees us as wheat. Think about that for a moment.
I like how Timothy Keller put this: “In the sight of God, we are justified. In ourselves, we are sinners. A Christian is an honored failure–a righteous sinner–a justified sinner.” Listen to that statement one more time: a Christian is an honored failure. We are both saint and sinner. We are both weed and wheat at the same time. This is what the Gospel helps us understand. And what does this mean? How does it help us get away from the consequences that I spoke of earlier?
Just this: if you think you are a weed and are a horrible, terrible person who can’t do anything right–the Gospel says, think about this for a moment–God sent His Son to die for you. God does not want you to perish. You are of too much value to Him. Do not consider yourself rubbish. Do not get down and depressed about yourself. You are loved. You are cherished. All you need to do is look at the cross to see what price God paid for you. You are that dear to Him. Pick your chin up. Know that you are a child of God.
And if you believe you are wheat and that you can look down your nose at others because of your righteousness, the Gospel says–not so fast buddy. You don’t even come close. You aren’t as good as you think you are. You are still a sinner. You still don’t follow the commandments of Jesus. You still don’t love in the manner God calls you to love. The only reason you have any standing with God is because of what Jesus has done–not because of anything you do. Get your nose out of the clouds for it doesn’t belong there. Be humble. You are only a child of God because of what Jesus has done, not because of what you do.
The Gospel raises the lowly and it brings down the haughty. The Gospel lets us escape the two fold trap which leads either to depression or self-righteousness. The Gospel helps us see that we are not exclusively weeds nor exclusively wheat. We are both at the same time. We are honored failures. We are justified sinners. This is what it means to be a Christian. Amen.