Last night we looked at Psalm 103 and some of Matthew chapter 13 to see if we could get some insight into how we can understand our world better by understanding the way God is doing his work in the world. Enjoy…
First, we read Psalm 103. Notice 103:3, where David writes that God “heals all our diseases.”
Now, how do we read this in terms of our actual experience? We could say…
- There are times when God does heal our diseases.
- Whenever we recover from an injury, or don’t die of a sickness, it’s God who is healing us. In fact every day we stay alive it’s God who has kept us from death. In other words, “Who keeps things from killing me? God.”
But the verse seems to read more like, right now he heals all our diseases. And how about verse 6? That one sounds like God is currently, right now giving oppressed people justice. Or how about verse 19? It sounds like Jesus’ kingdom is right now ruling over the world.
But I think we can all relate to the feeling of reading verses like these and thinking,“but it kind of doesn’t happen really like that right now.” There are still people being oppressed, right? There are still evil people running things in places, instead of Jesus, right? There are still sick people who aren’t getting healed, right?
So does a passage like Psalm 103 mean that the bible has a naïve view of life? Or that it talks nonsense religious language that doesn’t work in the real world? Like, God turns a blind eye to the reality of suffering in the world?
When you reach an impasse like this, i encourage you to stop, pray, and commit to really searching the scriptures for some answers. Commit to digging for truth. God will reward you. For instance, I think we get some real answers to these things in Matthew 13:24-43. Read that passage, and notice:
- Jesus liked to use farming imagery when he was explaining his work. He especially liked to use the image of planting seeds to talk about what he was doing.
- (v. 37) There he is—he’s planting seed. V.19 tells us that a primary way he does it is by his teaching. But this is really significant—Jesus said we should view him as a farmer, and we should view his work as the work of someone who plants seeds, which will ripen later.
- In v.31 we see that Jesus taught that the kingdom of God itself should be considered a planted seed. It starts out small. But it begins to grow till it’s a huge tree that provides shelter.
- The leaven imagery (yeast) in v. 33 is the same idea—a slow, invisible working that eventually fills everything.
- Mark 4:26-29 says a similar thing.
- Also see John 12:24 – “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” Jesus considers himself the ultimate, or first, seed. He will plant himself and his kingdom will grow.
A Thought Experiment:
Jesus himself told us to think in terms of a planting season when we thought about God’s plan. So let’s do that in a little thought experiment. In our thought experiment, Jesus plants his seeds. Now imagine a 3-month growing period, End of May to end of August. So say that Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, which happened in 33 AD, are at the end of May, and imagine that the harvest is at the end of August. In a 3 month period there would 2160 hours.
Now, let’s say each hour represents a year. So call average human life span is 70 hours. Now, imagine that you lived any 70 of the hours in between the end of May and the end of August. What would you be experiencing? During your life, the seeds Jesus planted are growing. At any given time you’d see plants in different stages of growth. There’d be the wheat plants, the growing kingdom of God. There would also be the seeds the enemy sowed. And those plants are the things in life that make us wish for the kingdom of God to really come all the way. They’re all the sickness and injustice and oppression—exactly the things we read about in Psalm 103. They’re the things that people point at when they want to say God must not be really running things. In the parable Jesus says you can also view these seeds as the people who actually do all these things—which makes sense, right? Because the things we hate about the world, a lot of time, are actually just actions of other men and women which create pain in the world. So we can’t depersonalize it too much, based on the teachings of Jesus, and the history of the world, and our own history experience with life. Jesus knows it’s not just that though, which is why I think in 13:41 he says that the angels won’t only remove “those who practice lawlessness” but also “all things that offend”—that is, anything that doesn’t belong in an eternal, holy, righteous kingdom—any evil, sickness, death, pain or filthiness.
But when does this “harvest” actually happen? It happens, at harvest time. And Jesus says it—“the Harvest is the end of the age.” (13:39) And this parable is so profound—the workers on the farm (who seem to be a picture of angels) want to get those wrong plants out of the field. The farmer has more wisdom though—he knows that there’s something about this field, and these crops that he wants to grow that means you can’t just go around uprooting and burning things, until you’ve secured the full growth and safety of the wheat itself. And it’s the wheat harvest that he’s after. He manages the field the way he does precisely for the existence and the safety of the wheat. Jesus doesn’t just want a field with no weeds. He wants a barn full of wheat.
So back up for a second. Imagine a follower of Christ living in the year 1574. He’s reading Psalm 103. He’s wondering when God’s going to fulfill the promises of healing and justice and a worldwide kingdom. But what does he see around him? Sure he can see the work of God in some ways. But he also sees so much evil. Everywhere! So you know he thinks, what’s God doing? But let’s map him on to our calendar. When is he living? According to our year-hour deal, he’s actually living right around the beginning of August. He’s got four more weeks till harvest. That’s more than 600 hours. His 70-hour life won’t get him there.
But let’s ask the question for him…is God working? Does God do what Psalm 103 says he does? Sure. He’s already begun to do it. He planted a seed, and many seeds, and they’re growing. They’re just not fully ripe yet. But they’re ripening.
So even if you live near the end of August, say…2000 hours after Jesus planted the seeds of the kingdom—It’s easy to feel like Psalm 103 is nonsense. What’s God doing? Sickness still kills us. No injustice has been righted! But all we have to do is hear the teaching of Jesus. Back in May, God planted seed. Christ came and died and was resurrected. His teaching is spreading through the world. The wheat’s getting ripe. The seeds from the enemy are ripening too. We see We see the growth and fruit of Satan’s opposition to God’s kingdom all around us.
And this is the key insight we get from the scriptures in this area. When we get frustrated, when it feels like God’s taking too long, or like he’s not doing what he promised to do—what do we think? One thing we learn to think is that, well, when Jesus comes He’ll fix everything. And that’s partly true. It’s the harvest we’re waiting for. But I think we see here that there’s an even more satisfying answer we can hold on to. It’s understanding how God works. God works by planting seed. He works by growing wheat. He tends his plants. He respects the integrity of the world he made. He wants us to actually flourish and grow. He wants us to be seed planters too. And He won’t come with a sickle and fire until every last grain of wheat is safe in his barn. Because when he comes like that—it’s going to destroy everything. The work of the enemy is too imbedded in every part of the world. It’s too entwined. And you can’t uproot it unless you’re ready to tear the whole field up and start over.
But once the wheat is ripe—once the work of the kingdom of God is fully accomplished and all those who are going to have trusted in Christ and done his work—then the end comes.
What should we take away from this?
When we get tempted to get discouraged or lose faith—all we have to do is seek God, and especially seek God by searching the scriptures. If we’re faithful to pursue answers that way, God will meet us. There are real answers in the bible. Honeslty, though, they’re not all lying right on the surface. For some answers you have to dig. And for some you have to dig deep. You have to commit yourself to finding God’s wisdom. I recommend reading Proverbs 2 and Job 28 to help you think about that.
So I think we see that the answer to the particular problem of getting discouraged by evil in the world is to really understand the way God is going to fulfill every promise and answer every cry for help. He really has already answered. His answer is taking its proper time to ripen. And all his teaching invites his followers to be part of the process—think about how he talked.
We’re not going to see full answers to our prayers until the harvest—until Christ returns to set up his kingdom. So for now we live in confidence that God’s plan is working itself out, and we live hoping in that moment when he comes to finish the work.
And what about if you’re not currently a follower of Jesus?
I think there’s something important for you in all of this. Here’s the truth: “Wheat” and “Tare” are not fixed categories. We all wake up into adult consciousness already in the “tare” category. And Jesus invites us to become wheat. The seed of his word is that powerful. It transforms a tare into wheat. You weren’t born one of God’s children, but you can become one. The bible says you can be born all over again. Trust Jesus, become his follower, acknowledge him as king of the world, and you will experience a new life that transforms you down to your deepest identity.