After Jesus had finished telling the parables of the kingdom in Matthew thirteen, He asked the disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” (Matthew 13.51). They answered, “Yes.” I find that answer amusing, since the parables of the kingdom have always been one of the most puzzling sections of the Word of God to most readers. Hardly anyone today would dare to say that he or she understands all these things. But the disciples thought they did. “Yes,” they said, as if the matter were not at all difficult.
The last parable in Matthew 13 introduces a new life situation, fishing and fishermen, but it makes almost the same points as the parable of the wheat and tares growing up together until the harvest, when there is a gathering of both followed by a separation. In the last of these parables, a gathering of fish is followed by a separation of the good from the bad. In both parables we have the work of the angels who do the gathering and separating. We even have a repetition of key phrases: “the end of the age,” and “throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It is not surprising that the merchant in Matthew thirteen recognized the value of the special pearl, for he had been seeking pearls and had presumably learned their value (or lack of value) through his seeking. Nor is it surprising that the man who discovered the hidden treasure saw its value. He was not seeking it, but we can hardly imagine him casually kicking at the treasure with his foot and walking on. A treasure is valuable, after all.
A caricature of Calvinism takes issue with the doctrines of election and “irresistible” grace. It imagines a case in which a certain individual – we’ll call him Kirk – does not want to be saved. Kirk loves sin and never looks beyond it. Although he has heard the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he has no interest in it. But God has elected this person. So, although Kirk does not want to be saved, he is nevertheless dragged by the scruff of his neck into heaven “kicking and screaming,” a reluctant convert.
Jesus’ parables of the Weeds, Mustard Seed, and Leaven in Matthew 13.24-43 bring us to a final thought about Christians and the Church. As Christians, we must be on guard against Satan’s tactics. We are warned not only against his infusion of his own people into the Christian community but also against the visible Church’s bureaucratic growth (which confuses money, size, and structure with spiritual fruit) and against the infusion of evil into the lives even of believing people (which confuses a loving and forgiving spirit with treason to Christ’s cause). In other words, we are to beware of the Church becoming secular, that is, of becoming like the world around it.
Many commentators have divergent views when it comes to Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven (Matthew 13.31-33). Some see these tales as pictures of the steady growth and influence of the Church; however, it seems they alert us to two more strategies Satan uses to harm the Church in the period between Christ’s first coming and his Second Coming.