Wheat and Tares (Matthew 13)

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Service Notes

  • Order of Service: Divine Service 1
  • Hymns: LSB #765, 752, 621, 865, 662

Sermon Text

The following text is adapted from Luther's Church Postil, which can be found in Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Volume 1, part 2, pages 100-104.

He that sows the good seed is the Son of Man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the Kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. These seven points of explanation comprehend and clearly set forth what Christ meant by this parable. But who could have discovered such an interpretation, seeing that in this parable He calls people the seed and the world the field, although in the parable preceding this one (which we looked at last week) He defines the seed to be the Word of God and the field to be the people or hearts of the people. If Christ Himself had not here interpreted this parable every one would have imitated His explanation of the previous parable and considered the seed to be the Word of God, and thus the Savior's object and understanding of it would have been lost.

Imitating or guessing is not to be allowed in the explanation of Scripture; but one should and must be sure and firm. Just like Joseph in Genesis 40 interpreted the two dreams of the butler and baker so differently, although they resembled each other, and he did not make a copy of the other. True, the danger would not have been great if the seed had been interpreted to be the Word of God; still had this been the case the parable would not have been thus understood correctly.

Now this Gospel teaches us how the kingdom of God or Christianity fares in the world, especially on account of its teaching, namely, that we are not to think that only true Christians and the pure doctrine of God are to dwell upon the earth; but that there must be also false Christians and heretics in order that the true Christians may be approved, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:19. For this parable treats not of false Christians, who are so only outwardly in their lives, but of those who are unchristian in their doctrine and faith under the name Christian, who beautifully play the hypocrite and work harm. It is a matter of the CONSCIENCE and not of the hand. And they must be very spiritual servants to be able to identify the tares among the wheat. And the sum is that we should not marvel nor be terrified if there spring up among us many different false teachings and false faiths. Satan is constantly among the children of God (Job 1:6).

Again this Gospel teaches how we should conduct ourselves toward these heretics and false teachers. We are not to uproot nor destroy them. Here He says publicly LET ... BOTH ... GROW ... TOGETHER. We have to do here with God's Word alone; for in this matter he who errs today may find the truth tomorrow. Who knows when the Word of God may touch his heart? But if he be burned at the stake, or otherwise destroyed, it is thereby assured that he can NEVER find the truth; and thus the Word of God is snatched from him, and he must be lost, who otherwise MIGHT have been saved. Hence the Lord says here, that the wheat also will be uprooted if we weed out the tares. This is something awful in the eyes of God and NEVER to be justified.

From this observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe: the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, Jews with death. Thus we uproot the tares by our own power, as if WE WERE THE ONES who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God's Word alone must do. But by murder we separate the people from the Word so that it cannot possibly work upon them. Thus we bring with one stroke a double murder upon ourselves, as far as it lies in our power. We murder the body for time and the soul for eternity. Afterwards we say we did God A SERVICE by our actions, and wish to merit something special in Heaven.

Therefore this passage should in all reason terrify the grand inquisitors and murderers of the people, where they are not brazened faced, even if they have to deal with true heretics. But at present they burn the true saints and are themselves heretics. What is that but uprooting the wheat, and pretending to exterminate the tares, like insane people?

Today's Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing. The good seed is sowed only by Christ. Satan can sow nothing but evil seed. The field itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat. The field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat. In the same way the false Christians among the true Christians are of no use but to feed the world and be food for Satan, and they are so beautifully green and hypocritical, as if they alone were the saints, and hold their place in Christendom as if they were lords there, and the government and highest places belonged to them; and for no other reason than that they glory that they are Christians and are among Christians in the Church of Christ, although they see and confess that they live unchristian lives.

In that the Savior pictures here also Satan scattering his seed while the people sleep and no one sees him do it, He shows how Satan adorns and disguises himself so that he cannot be taken for Satan. As we experienced when Christianity was planted in the world Satan thrust into its midst false teachers. People securely think here God is enthroned without a rival and Satan is A THOUSAND MILES AWAY, and no one sees anything except how they parade the Word, name and work of God. That course proves beautifully effective. But when the wheat springs up, then we see the tares, that is, if we are conscientious with God's Word and teach faith, we see that it brings forth fruit, then they go about and antagonize it, and wish to be masters of the field and fear lest only wheat grows in the field, and their interests be overlooked.

Then the Church and pastor marvel; but they are not allowed to pass judgment, and eagerly wish to interpret all for the best, since such persons bear the Christian name. But it is apparent they are tares and evil seed, have strayed from the faith and fallen to trust in works, and think of rooting out the tares. They lament because of it before the Lord, in the heartfelt prayer of their spirit. For the sower of the good seed says again, they should not uproot it, that is, they should have patience, and suffer such blasphemy, and commend all to God; for although the tares hinder the wheat, yet they make it the more beautiful to behold, compared with the tares, as St. Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 11:19: "For there MUST be false factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you." So far Luther.

We have in our congregation both wheat and tares. Wheat that desire to live as Christians. Tares that just want to have the name Christian. Jesus tells us to let both grow together. The contrast between the wheat and the tares brings the revelation of the real Christians and the counterfeit Christians. When the harvest comes, it will be the tares being thrown into Hell's fires. The wheat will be brought into the heavenly barns. The great hope of the wheat is to convert the tares from being counterfeit to being genuine. Amen.