Fifth Sunday of Lent
Tares and Wheat
Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent. We are nearing the end of this season, and rapidly approaching the focus of Lent -- indeed, the focus of our Christian faith, which is the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, whom many call ‘The Christ.”
As I have said during the last several weeks, Lent is that period of time offered to us by the Christian church, a time to reflect more closely on our sin nature and on the mercy and grace of God who not only offers us redemption and the remission of sins, but who declares us righteous by our baptismal faith, who has adopted us into His family, and who has saved us through Christ from His wrath.
But we have a mortal, powerful, and most malicious enemy who tirelessly attacks God's sons and daughters – including you and me here – who live for Christ each day.
As many of you know, St Paul referred to this spiritual warfare in several of his letters. One in particular comes to my mind. If you have not memorized what he wrote in that sixth chapter of his letter to the Christians at Ephesus, you will do yourself a great benefit to set yourself to do so. I have preached on the armor of God in the past, and I expect to do it again at some point because this warfare is such an important subject. I believe we must be reminded of the supernatural battle from time to time, as well as the supernatural weapons given us by our God for that DAILY battle.
And so we come to the topic for today’s message on this fifth Sunday of Lent. That subject is the Lord’s parable of the tares – the weeds that look like wheat, but are sown by the devil. Jesus describes them as children of the devil, those who follow him wittingly and those who follow him unwittingly.
I am reading from Matthew 13: “Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” . . . .
"Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42).
Tares might be called in modern parlance, A Fifth Column. For those of you who do not know about ‘Fifth Columns,’ It is a group of people within a larger group who undermine the larger group from within. Their activities are secretive and often involve sabotage and disinformation with the ultimate goal of destroying the larger group.
Satan’s Fifth Columns date back to long before the first century. The Old Testament is replete with examples of traitors and destructive clandestine operatives among the Jewish people. But for our purposes, we look only now at the Fifth Columns of the first century.
The apostle Paul talked about them in his second letter to the church at Corinth: For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
And again in his letter to Titus: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” (1:15-16)
One of the roles of tares is infiltrate the fields of wheat, choke out their spiritual maturity – even their life. It is because of the tares that many Christians have even left the Church because of the godless lives, lifestyles, of the tares, and their subtle twisting of Biblical doctrines.
THAT is why I feel led to preach about this subject today during Lent because God wants us to remain ALERT to Satan’s tricks.
Only the Holy Spirit, whom the Father sent to guide us into all truth and lead us away from error, only He can keep us from falling prey to the Fifth Columns in our political and educational structures – and even in some of our churches where pastors and other church leaders tell people what they want to hear and not what they NEED to hear. These witting or unwitting children of Satan walk arm in arm with those who persist in living in sin and calling it normal, who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and bitter for sweet.
Listen, please. A doctorate degree in theology or philosophy does not guarantee the person is a man of God. All that degree means is that he or she passed some tests and got passing grades on some papers. Again, the title ‘doctor’ does not guarantee that he is a man of God.
And neither does a white collar mean the person is a man of God. All the collar means is that somebody laid hands on him and said a few words of prayer. Such things do not guarantee, godliness, or faithfulness to Christ. Look at Judas. Or Arias. Or any of the other leaders of heretical movements in the early centuries or later centuries.
Here are some examples of modern-day tares: A very popular and well-known bishop from California has opined in recent years that we can reasonably hope that hell is empty. And he is not alone in that error. He has a number of Protestant counterparts who also spread that devilish lie.
And there are other members of the clergy – Protestant and Catholic – who tell their biblically illiterate congregations that God doesn’t care if you’re gay or straight. Other false shepherds tell their people that Christianity is NOT the only religion that will take us to heaven. These tares will tell you that Muslims and Hindus and Jews can all get to heaven without Jesus to cover their sins.
If those things are true, then the historic Christian faith dating to the apostles of the Lord is false. The New Testament writers were wrong when they warned about a holy lifestyle as necessary for eternal life, and Jesus is a liar who said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6)
Let me be as clear as I can be: Catholics cannot be saved without obedience to Jesus. Baptists cannot be saved without obedience to Jesus. Pentecostals cannot be saved without obedience to Jesus. Neither can Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists or any other church group.
The list of false teaching spewed from pulpits and publishing houses goes on and on. THAT is why God tells us to enter the spiritual battle armed with the weapons of His design. If you don’t know the word of God, if you are not wielding that word and wearing the spiritual armor He has provided us, then you are waging the deadly battle naked and armed only with a butter knife.
During this Lenten season we all would do well to pay heed to His warning to us in the 10th chapter of John’s gospel: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice . . . The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:1-4, 10)
Listen, my brothers and sisters do you want to hear the Shepherd’s voice during this Lenten season and around the calendar? And how do we distinguish it from the plethora of voices all around us –social media, the cable networks, and from too many church pulpits and classrooms? How do we know his voice to follow it?
The Lord Jesus promised us: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. John 16:13-14
The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth AND away from error. So, to whom are we listening when it comes to theological truth or error? And please hear this:
Satan is very willing to dish out an ounce of error covered in fifty pounds of truth – because it is that ounce of error that will ultimately destroy us. That is why what teachers and clergy like the California Bishop and his Protestant counterparts are such dangerous tares – because so much of what they teach is correct. But watch out for that ounce of error!
As I bring this message to a close, let me share one more point relevant to this subject of tares among the wheat.
I recently perused an article in a couple of Christian online magazines that speak well of a popular personality test called the Enneagram. Somewhat like the Myers-Briggs personality test used by many businesses, the Enneagram claims to reveal a person’s temperament, along with their inner strengths and weaknesses.
Businesses use the Enneagram to determine the best mixture of employees to work together on team projects. Some clergy even use the Enneagram in their marriage counseling to suggest if the couple are compatible!
In the little research I’ve done into the enneagram, and its possible occult roots, let me give you my take on this tare among the wheat. And I will again be as clear as I know to be:
The Holy Spirit is quite capable of revealing to us our personalities, along with our strengths and weaknesses. But for Him to do that, WE usually have to do the hard work of reading and studying the Bible consistently, humbly, and thoroughly year after year after year.
There just ain’t no shortcut to that kind of insight into ourselves.
Did you get that? Such inner reflection REQUIRES study – investing the time to understand the culture and the people to whom the Bible books were originally written. And then prayerfully seeking the Holy Spirit’s application of the words of Scripture to 21st century ME.
We must be consistent – meaning we keep at it, rain or shine, feeling like it or not feeling like it. We make time to read it and study it. Even if we’d rather watch television or play a board game.
We must read it humbly – meaning we let God's word tell US about our lifestyle and plans and goals instead of us imposing on God's word what we want it to say.
And we must read it thoroughly – meaning we read it from cover to cover, year after year.
But it's been my experience that most Christians are unwilling to do those things. That’s why it’s much easier to take a personality test. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit included these words in His book for all to read and pay heed:
“For the word of God's is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Hebrews 4:12-13)
Wow, did you get that? Nothing we do or think or say is hidden from God. It’s ALL laid bare to Him -- AND TO US -- as we study His word. No wonder so many Christians would rather do a personality test!
Whose voice are we following? Does the person behind the voice acknowledge and teach that the Bible is fully without error in anything it speaks about – whether history, or theology, or math, or science?
Does that person confess publicly that the Bible is infallible, meaning it is not and cannot every be wrong about anything of which it speaks? And does the person believe every chapter, every verse, every line, every word in its original manuscript is fully inspired by the Holy Spirit?
If any person denies any of these three fundamental truths, they are not faithful shepherds of God's flock. And we should avoid such men and women because Satan will use them to instill a poisonous weed into your soul.
Remember Judas. All eleven of the apostles thought he was a faithful follower of Christ – until he betrayed the Lord.
The Church has given us the season of Lent to reflect on God's mercy, grace, and the forgiveness of sins. It is during this season of Lent, as we move forward toward Resurrection Sunday, that we want to become especially aware of the false teachers that abound all around us – Tares among the wheat, as Jesus warned.
Please, we must never follow popular pastors or evangelists simply because they exude charismatic personalities and a pleasant television persona. We follow those ONLY who closely and humbly and obediently follow Christ.
To do anything less is to open ourselves to eternal disaster. St Paul’s instruction to Timothy is instruction we all must heed: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16)