Having a quiet time has been difficult lately. It’s like a push-me-pull-you with God. I want to read my Bible, I want to get into the Word more, and then I hear the ding of my phone, or I look at the clock… and suddenly it is hours later and I’ve barely turned a thought heavenward – let alone prayed.
I needed to try something different and discovered videos of the gospels, recorded with actors in the background – no edits or changes – just the reading of scripture with visuals to make the text more vivid. I’m really enjoying watching them, and have been discovering new perspectives along the way, not really because of the acting, but more because the visuals caused me to think more carefully about the words I was reading and hearing in ways I’d never considered before.
Ripe for understanding
Perhaps the entire atmosphere has also made me ripe to gain new insights. Recovering from two minor surgeries, and now basically only able to leave the house for work or shopping because of a new lockdown imposed on all of Israel have made me both restless and introspective. And of course, the Day of Atonement begins tomorrow. Everything surrounding this time of year has made me acutely aware of an accentuated spiritual heaviness. Nevertheless, I really wasn’t expecting to burst into tears as I watched and listened to Matthew 13:37-43, Jesus’s explanation of the parable of the tares among the wheat. Seriously, that passage never made me weep before. But now, I’ll never read it in the same way again.
Why people do not like this parable
This parable has always been a bit controversial. Basically, Jesus is saying that there are only two groups of people – the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the “evil one.” He explains that the sons of the evil one, at the “end of the age” will be gathered and cast into fire where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” whereas the “righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
This is not a popular parable. I suppose it isn’t taught very often, except perhaps by expository teachers. It is one of a number of important passages that support the idea of hell and eternal punishment for those who reject God’s ways. And no one likes to talk about hell, at least not seriously. There is even new teaching out that says there is no hell, and that the idea of eternal suffering is not compatible with a loving God. While I disagree with that teaching, that is not the insight I gained from this parable. I saw something completely different in why Jesus told it – something very much compatible with a loving God – despite the existence of hell.
A warning compatible with a loving God
As I watched the parable being acted out, I was stricken by the manner in which the man grabbed a hold of the weeds, and without a second thought – threw them into a nearby fire where they withered and burned. I burst into tears.
Suddenly I was weeping and praying for my unsaved friends, family, and nation, and overwhelmed with the conviction that this parable was told in love, as a warning. As I perused the passage, I was stunned to realize that like any warning, this was a series of parables, beginning and ending with judgement –the parable of the tares and the parable of the fisherman (Matthew 13:47-50). In both, the weeds, and the bad fish, are removed and tossed away. But in between them are two parables filled with hope (Matthew 13:44-46) – that if one is willing to give up everything connected with this world’s system (symbolized by all one’s worldly possessions) there is hope to gain treasure beyond value. In between judgement, there is an offer of hope.
Prayer is an action beyond our comprehension
I realized anew that prayer is an action that has an impact beyond our comprehension. Prayer changes us, and prayer connects us with the very heart of God. It is an act of faith that brings us into communication with the creator of the universe, the lover of our souls, and the God, who through scripture reminds us that it is not His desire for anyone to go to hell, but that all humankind would be saved (2 Peter 3:9).
When we pray, we are bringing God into the lives of people who might otherwise have shut Him out completely. While they have closed the door to God, when we intercede and pray for them, we are in effect reopening their closed door, and saying, “O Lord, you love this person. Please don’t give up on them. Yes, they deserve the fire, but so do I… you saved me, please, save them!” And I believe that kind of prayer delights our savior.
A new motivation to intercede
The parable of the tares among the wheat has given me a new picture with which to pray. As I picture the weeds, burning in the fire, I cry out to the Lord, “Oh please Lord, no… save Your people, save my family, save my friends, help them to see how good You are, and how much You do not want this to be their destiny.”
I am convinced that Jesus did not share this parable so that we could sit back, as believers in Jesus, and give a sigh of relief that we are saved. I think he shared this parable because the field is ripe to the harvest, and we must pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers to the field (Matthew 9:37-38).
There are so many people I cannot reach, but God is not limited to me. He works through other people, through situations, and by bringing to truths about Himself, so that we can make the right choice. True, there are people who will say “no” to God… but He will give each and every person a chance to know Himself, somehow, in some way. Of this I am absolutely convinced.
What is impossible with man is possible with God
When the Rich Young Ruler decided not to follow Jesus, a conversation ensued between Jesus and His disciples. They concluded, “then who can be saved?” The feeling in their question was, “Lord saving someone is too hard, it’s impossible.” And Jesus responded, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26)
Prayer does the work my hands cannot do
As I ponder how this parable now motivates me to pray, and reminds me to be open to every opportunity to share Jesus with others, I’m reminded of a very special prayer we sing in the Chinese church.
Here are the words of the song: (You can listen to it with the English words here: https://youtu.be/jp8P5exXu5w)
I will come to You in prayer, I will seek Your face
I will stand within the gap, there will I intercede.
I am weak and helpless Lord, You, my strength shall be
Guide me with Your gracious hand there will my victory be.
For every time I pray, I move the hand of God
My prayer does the things, my hands cannot do
For every time I pray, the mountains are removed
The paths are made straight, and nations turn to You.
May the parable of the tares encourage us all to pray for the nations and those we love to come to a saving acceptance of the love and mercy found by receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is God alone who can woo them to Himself and give them the faith to believe. No matter how much we share with others, like the farmer, once the seed is planted, we must trust God to make it grow.
As I consider the Day of Atonement, I pray that God will pour out on Israel a spirit of repentance, a hunger and thirst for truth and for righteousness, because He has promised that these hungers will be filled. Only He has the power to save.