“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
That’s how Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities opens. That sentence seems to describe our world today pretty well.
We live in unprecedented times for the worldwide church. People in the global south and previously difficult countries like China are coming to Christ quicker than we can report. We have the Bible in more languages today than ever before. Technology makes the spread of Bibles and Christian literature easier and more cost effective than ever. Christ is completing His promise to build His church and is using hoards of workers, resources, and training programs to make it happen. Reaching every people group or nation with the gospel seems closely in reach.
On the flip side, the secularization of western civilization is accelerating rapidly with growing persecution likely just around the corner. Europe, the birthplace of the Reformation and locus of Christendom for so many centuries, has all but totally rejected their Christian heritage. Terror groups like ISIS and Boko Haram move like juggernauts in the Middle East and spread their evil ideologies like gangrene to the rest of the world through social media—maybe even to your own neighborhood. At times, the church doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot better with abuses of power, wars over worship styles, or pastors falling into sin.
Is our world getting better or worse?
Jesus’ Surprising Answer
Matthew 13:24-30 has the answer for us in Jesus’s Parable of the Weeds:
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”
This parable teaches that God sowing good seed in the world that will grow into a harvest. It also teaches that the enemy works sowing weeds in the midst of the wheat God has planted. Since the weeds can’t be pulled out from amongst the wheat, they must grow together until the harvest.
This answers my earlier question: our world is both getting better AND worse simultaneously.
This parable is a call to balanced and sober thinking about the world we live in. That means we should rejoice as we see the banner of the gospel advance forward against the darkness in this world. It also means that we can’t think that the good things happening today are ushering in Christ’s kingdom here on earth.
When weeds pop up in our community, workplace, or church, we can’t give into despair. Jesus said this would happen. We need to suit up the armor of God and stand firm in this spiritual war and do what we can to advance the cause of Christ even in the darkest situations.
Nothing is Outside of the Lord’s Power
That’s what one man captured and executed by ISIS recently did.1
In his last moments, he gave his executioner his Bible. The killer who once enjoyed killing Christians took the Bible and began to read. Soon he dreamt of a man in white who told him, “You are killing my people.” This man in the dream soon revealed Himself as Jesus, asking the ISIS member to follow Him. And by God’s grace, that’s exactly what this former-ISIS member is now doing.
God can transform the weeds into wheat.
That’s what He showed us clearly on the cross—the event that simultaneously demonstrates the judgment incurred for wickedness, yet so clearly reveals to us the glorious mercy of God for sinners like us. Even though it may seem like the worst of times, in Christ we know the best of times await us.
Let us be realistic about our situation, people of prayer, and ready for action. Even when it seems all is lost, a simple act of faith like handing your executioner a Bible could be the spark God uses to transform weeds into wheat.
1 See “When an ISIS fighter wants to talk“, Voice of the Martyrs podcast, May 29, 2015
This article originally ran on BloggingTheologically.com.