In the parable of the sower, Jesus likened God’s true people as those whose seeds fall on good soil and produce grain abundantly—those who hear the Word of God and understand it (see Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). He contrasts these true Christians with those who hear the Word, have “no root” in themselves, endure troubles for a little while but then fall away from the faith; as well as against those who hear the Word but follow the ways of the world. In stark contrast to these false Christians, the true Christians produce their fruits abundantly.
There is nothing that so illustrates the faith than the process of a seed’s life. God’s Word is planted in us, and for the believing and practising Christian the Holy Spirit germinates it within us and is sprouted into belief—into faith. As young sprouts, our faith will either continue to deepen its roots in the Gospel or become useless, as depicted in Jesus’ parable of the sower. Faith as small as a mustard seed has the power to move mountains of doubt and temptation (Matthew 17:20). As a small seed continues to grow into a mighty tree throughout the seasons, so our faith continues to grow throughout the seasons of life. Our faith experiences nourishment from the waters of baptism, and it goes through droughts of doubt and anxiety and the windy trials of temptation, but we can always continue to nourish our faith with the Word and the sacraments. As long as we remain rooted in the faith, God is faithful to continue nourishing our souls. In the end, God will gather His true people into His kingdom.
Directly after the parable of the sower, Jesus contrasts Christians and false Christians a second time in the parable of the weeds as if a further explanation was needed. Matthew 13:24-30:
“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 weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
In this parable, the master is God, the master’s servants are Christian leaders, the wheat are Christians, and the weeds are false teachers. Here, we have the image that among the true Christians, false teachers have entered the mix because the enemy, Satan, has placed them there. These false teachers, creating false Christians, start to grow among the true Christians, who may cause the true Christians to fall away—to wither away and die. God causes the good seed to grow in His people, but the enemy plants weeds here and there to cause others to fall away. (Notice how these two parables directly contradict the Calvinist false teachings of irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. They explain away these parables with human logic rather than sticking with the plain and obvious meaning of the text in basic hermeneutics.)
We wonder how this can happen, so we think we ought to get rid of them immediately. Yet God, as the master in this parable, says to let them remain as both the weeds and the wheat grow that way we don’t accidentally throw out real Christians along with the false Christians. (Paul Washer’s legalism is known to do this, throwing out genuine Christians from the faith along with those who are false Christians.) Instead of immediately plucking them out, Jesus says to wait for the harvest when God will come and gather the unbelievers and false Christians and cast them into Hell, bringing His true people into His kingdom. We see similar imagery of God reaping the ripe—Christians—as well as the wicked in Revelation 14:14-20:
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud One like a Son of Man, with a golden crown on His head, and a sharp sickle in His hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in Your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. [This is Jesus gathering the harvest of believers.]
Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia. [This is God gathering the harvest of unbelievers and casting them into Hell.]
There’s a significant difference between the believers and the wicked in the language used here. The believers who are reaped are referred to simply as “the harvest”—one that is due for good reaping. The wicked, however, are called “clusters from the vine of the earth”—in other words, one giant mess. Remember what Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:5-6). This prophecy in Revelation is the culmination of what Jesus says here.
Imagine as a farmer, you’re gathering the grapes that are ripe and ready for good use, yet there are a lot of bad ones. So after you gather all the good ones, you cut off the bad ones from the vine because they’re useless, leaving a giant messy pile of useless branches and you throw them into the fire. That’s what Revelation is depicting here. Jesus’ true branches who grow rooted in the faith as little seeds are reaped at the harvest, for they are ripe. The ones who detach themselves from Jesus, however, are left as one giant clustered mess on the earth and are gathered up and tossed into the fire—the winepress of God’s wrath. It is interesting to note that this winepress is trodden outside the city, which is significant because any death that took place in Old Testament Israel would have to occur outside the camp of Israel, and Jesus was likewise crucified outside of Zion. “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood” (Hebrews 13:11-12). And just so you have a better picture of God’s massive destruction to come upon the wicked, a horse’s bridle is about 6 feet and 1,600 stadia is approximately 184 miles. So, the wrath of God against the wicked is a 6-foot-high, 184-mile river of blood. That’s frightening, but only if you’re an unbeliever.
So, as God’s children, we have a lot to look forward to—being with our Lord and being fully delivered from sin and evil. While we remain on this earth, however, we are called to produce the fruit of the Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). In the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:6-9), Jesus tells of a man who planted a fig tree in the vineyard and it’s not producing any fruit. Wanting to cut it down, the vinedresser (God) tells him to give it another year as he continues to fertilise it (the Christian). If it still doesn’t produce any fruits, then he will cut it down. Not only are we called to produce the fruit of the Spirit, but God also remains patient in our production even when we fail. How do we produce these fruits? Well, that’s what I aim to explore throughout this series.
So stay tuned for next time when I begin talking about the first fruit of the Spirit: love.