Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Battle of Thermopylae and the Body of Christ Today: The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds

“The east was on a collision course with the west in 480 BC. The world watched in awe as the largest army in history poured into Europe. Heading this colossal war machine was Xerxes, the king of Persia. His army numbered almost two million foot soldiers, eighty thousand horsemen, twenty thousand chariots, camel-riding Arabs, and war elephants from India. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that when this beast from the east marched, the ground shook. When it stopped to drink, pools were dried up and rivers reduced to a trickle.

You may remember Xerxes as the husband of the biblical heroine Esther. This self-proclaimed “king of kings” spent four years amassing his titanic force to crush tiny Greece. It was the mismatch of the ages. Greece was a collection of city-states warring against each other. Athens was mired in social stagnation, and Sparta was in economic shambles. Never was a nation so vulnerable. Yet five Greek cities managed to scrape together about five thousand soldiers. They were outnumbered 430 to 1. But at their core were three hundred Spartans. These three hundred had been trained since childhood to stand or die in battle. Every Spartan mother sent her sons off to war with this warning: “Come home with your shield, or on it.”

The Greeks took their stand in a narrow pass, fifty feet wide, with the sea on one side and towering cliffs on the other, at a place called Thermopylae. This battleground has become hallowed in military history. It is to the Greeks what the Alamo is to Texans. In that narrow pass a heroic handful held back the Persian hordes for two days. When Xerxes finally unleashed his crack storm troopers, the Greeks annihilated them. But on the third night, a traitor showed the Persians a secret trail through the cliffs into Thermopylae. Sure death was coming with the breaking dawn. Dismissing the rest of the Greeks, General Leonidas led his three hundred Spartans, along with some loyal Thespians, to a mound where they made their final stand.

This small band of Spartans died without knowing they were changing history. They bought enough time for the Greek cities to raise a great army. Their heroism triggered a surge of national pride that led to decisive victories at Salamis and Plataea. The power of Persia was broken. The future of civilization shifted from Asia to Europe. Athens became the world’s most influential city. Greek culture and democracy would give birth to the modern world. Maybe you are facing overwhelming odds. Perhaps you have suffered a crushing defeat. Take heart from the story of three hundred Spartans. Surely it teaches us a valuable lesson:

There are some defeats whose triumphs rival victories.” -Robert Petterson, The One Year Book of Amazing Stories

"Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the LORD our God. Those nations will fall down and collapse, but we will rise up and stand firm." -Psalm 20:7-8

As the body of Christ today, sometimes we feel like the 300 at Thermopylae don’t we? It often seems like the darkness is closing in on all sides, particularly in the west. New forms of evil on every side seem to grow and spread like locusts. Mass systems of public education and universities and colleges grind like gears of secularism mass producing anti-religious worldviews, and growing hatred and mistrust toward Christians and people of faith. We feel surrounded on every side by a growing darkness in these difficult days.

We see strange new technologies being developed, even microchips that can be implanted in people’s brains. We see scientists experimenting, by colliding particles at rapid speeds. We see scientists experimenting with chimeras and gain of function research to viruses, and new weaponry, and we see culture sexualizing children at younger and younger ages. We see violent extremism, we see Marxism, and critical theory, and other ideologies that threaten to disrupt society. We see massive debt in the government in the trillions upon trillions, we see rampant inflation, and economic uncertainty.

Yet we also see that the body of Christ stands firm even now. The Christian movement across the face of the world is growing, not declining. Even in the United States, evangelical Christianity is holding firm, as mainline protestant Christianity is tumbling in memberships, as they compromise with the world on key issues like marriage and life and gender and such worldly ideologies. The body of Christ continues to plant new churches, the body of Christ continues to advocate for life, for marriage, for children, for charity, and for the hurting and the lost. The body of Christ continues to serve at soup kitchens and homeless shelters and evangelism outreaches and coffee shops and women's shelters and human trafficking outreaches and pregnancy resource centers and political action organizations. The body of Christ shares the gospel in unique ways through television, radio, books, movies, the internet, tracts, relationships, groups, street evangelism and much more. The body of Christ continues to pull people from the clutches of sin and addiction and into the kingdom of God by the thousands every day. The body of Christ continues to stand boldly against the darkness, shining ever brighter, and victoriously against sin, death, hell, and apostasy.

I think we few in the remnant Church of the body of Christ in the USA and Europe, are like the 300 right now. Satan has positioned so much of his demonic forces to pervert and destroy the western world. But with so much of Satan’s forces focused on the west, the gospel can spread more rapidly through other parts of the world, like southern Africa, India, the middle east, China, and various other segments of unreached people groups. We have to hold the line against millions of demons, with only a scant few scattered forces in the west that still hold firmly to the radical teachings of Christ. That is our call, to stand in that gap, to hold the line against the night, even as all the enemy’s attention is focused here. Maybe our sacrifice here, will help spread the gospel to other nations around the world.

Often times, just like the Spartans at Thermopylae, we win by losing, we win by giving up everything for our cause, and from the blood of our losses and defeats, spring forth the victory of times in the future.

The Spartans at Thermopylae were able to hold their position so long because they found a choke point and lined up shoulder to shoulder forming a phalanx, that was impenetrable. They would lock shields, shields in front and shields above their heads, and they would form a powerful line that couldn’t be broken.

Unfortunately it’s not always like that in the body of Christ. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so tough being a Christian. Often times our deepest hurts and pains come not from attacks by the world or secular culture, but they come from attacks from fellow Christians.

Sometimes this can be attributed to Christians who make a mistake, or are young in their faith walk, and hurt us without realizing what they are doing due to inexperience, however, it can also be for another reason, because they are like the weeds sowed amongst the wheat of the crops, in our parable today.

Our parable today is the parable of the wheat and the tares, from the book of Matthew 13, the same chapter from the last week when we looked at the parable of drawing in the nets. This parable really goes into greater depth than our parable from last week, and we get an explanation from Jesus about what it means. Let’s dive in.

From Matthew 13:24-30, “He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. 26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 The landowner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he told them.

“‘So, do you want us to go and pull them up?’ the servants asked him.

29 “‘No,’ he said. ‘When you pull up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but collect the wheat in my barn.’”

The NIV renders the bad seed as weeds, but the KJV renders them as “tares.” And I think tares is most likely what Jesus meant when he shared this parable. A tare when it first grows looks almost exactly like wheat. Today we call it darnel, or poison darnel or cockle. And it’s called poison darnel for a very good reason, it’s poisonous to eat.

Wheat on the other hand is wonderful isn’t it? It’s just perfect. Wheat is just… I love wheat. Don’t we all just love wheat so much? Oh heavenly wheat, a gift from God himself. I could go on and on. Wheat is so wonderful. Why? Because from wheat we make flour, and from flour we make bread. Oh, delicious bread. Mother and I love to go to Tim Hortons, and we get their soup, and along with each soup they give you a half cut of their wondrous artisan bread. Grandma made bread growing up too, and it was so delicious. French bread, sour dough, flat bread, bread is just wonderful.

Our gift from God is wheat. And similarly, we as the body of Christ, come in one of two forms, wheat or weeds. But if we’re wheat, we’re pretty special, honestly, think of all the things you can make wheat into, when it’s ground into flour, bread, biscuits, cookies, crepes, donuts, pasta, scones, naan, cake, biscotti, shortbread, muffins, and on and on the list goes.

Similarly, in the body of Christ we find all sorts of wonderful giftings, we find servants, drivers, evangelists, literature experts, painters, missionaries, writers, architects, builders, leaders, administrators, cooks, healers, gardeners, prophets, dreamers, pastors, teachers, inventors, scientists, CEOs, revivalists, prayer warriors, planners, bloggers, designers, visionaries, tongue-speakers, musicians, and on and on the list goes.

So in this parable we have the kingdom of God, and a farmer planting seed, and wheat growing up, and weeds sowed in the fields by the enemy, and the servants ask if they should pull the weeds, the master says no, instead at the harvest they will split up the two and deal with it then. What does this all mean?

Like I said earlier, we get the interpretation from Jesus directly later when he talks with his disciples.

From Matthew 13:36-43, “36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

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 people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people 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.

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 blazing 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. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

So Jesus helps us understand the meaning plainly. Just like last week, we see that we can’t expect to uproot the bad apples right now. We can’t pull out the tares. They look very similar to the wheat, we would end up throwing out wheat as well as weeds.

But at the time of the harvest it will become very clear. Because did you know, that when wheat blooms, it bows down and offers up it’s white seed, it’s fruit. But the darnel, the cockle does not bow, and it offers up black seeds, that are poisonous to humans. What a perfect metaphor for us today, will we be stiff necked and prideful and refuse to bow before Jesus and serve his people, or will we be like the wheat, producing good fruit, and bowing down humbly to give it up to the master?

We see two destinations indicated by the Lord, those who do evil and sin, they will be thrown into the blazing furnace, for permanent weeping and grinding of teeth. And the righteous ones, will shine brightly, in the kingdom of the Lord, permanently as well.

Whoever has ears to hear this message, let them hear it and put it into practice.

This helps us to understand why we feel so isolated sometimes, and why we feel like other Christians don’t live up to the calling, and don’t really know Jesus deeply, because the wheat and the tares are growing together. So if you’ve been hurt deeply by someone in the church, just realize, they may have been a tare, and don’t let them turn you away from Jesus. Then again, maybe they were just an immature Christian who made a mistake as well. We just don’t know. So honestly, I try to regard anyone who claims the name of Christ as a Christian, but, I also watch for their fruit, and this helps me to see what they truly are. Yet even if I don’t see fruit, I may not see it, and it’s not my place to try to uproot and remove weeds. Of course we do have a system of church discipline in accordance with Matthew 18 to deal with people who are causing problems in the body. So we have to balance these various things together.

In any case, how can we put these things into practice today?

1. 300 can beat 250,000 in the kingdom of God, don’t ever give up, no matter how outmatched you are, God can do anything

2. As you see wickedness growing in the world be determined to shine even brighter for Christ

3. If a Christian hurts you, this was expected as the wheat & tares grow together

4. You have a gift, just like the wheat, a unique gift to offer for Jesus, use it

5. Be patient in affliction, knowing that God will work it out on judgment day

6. Serve Christ whole-heartedly and bow down and offer your fruit (good deeds) to God daily

7. Stay humble, and don’t let your love grow cold, keep loving even in the growing darkness of this world

If you’re feeling like the Spartans at Thermopylae, surrounding and under heavy attack by the world, don’t lose heart, even when another Christian hurts you. Understand that the wheat and tares are growing together. Continue to fight and stand firm. Because just as the Spartans offered up their lives for freedom and victory over the enemy, so we Christians must offer up ourselves, all that we have to Christ, just as the wheat grows slowly, month by month, and at the appropriate time comes to full bloom, bows it’s head, and offers up it’s fruit to the farmer, to be gathered. So we too must offer up ourselves and our fruit to the Lord of all, King Jesus Christ. Amen.