By John J. Blanchard
May 10, 2014
The title of today’s study is Thorns, Thistles, and Briars.
Spring has finally arrived, however, it is very cold and wet here. We can’t plant, but soon when we can work the ground and start planting our crops, the annual battle with the weeds will begin. Those of us who like to grow things naturally don’t use chemical sprays that would kill all the weeds, so from planting to harvesting it is a constant battle to pluck the weeds and make sure our crops get growing. This is true especially at the beginning, because it is so easy for those little plants that we have sown the seeds for to get overwhelmed by weeds if we are not careful and stay on top of the battle. That leads us to our first Scripture with the Parable of the Sower.
If you would, please turn to Matthew chapter 13, and we’ll read that. Read Matthew 13:1-9. This parable is obviously speaking of Jesus Christ sowing the earth with His seed, which is the begettal of the Holy Spirit. We are focusing on the part here about the thorns. Weeds can literally choke off the nutrients that would feed those seeds as they sprout. It would kill the plant. Weeds tend to grow faster than the plants we want. They can block the sun, which provides light for photosynthesis as well and thereby kill or stunt the plant. Because weeds get their extensive root system quicker than the plants we want, they can also absorb the water.
We understand that Jesus Christ’s truth is the sunlight, which is what the Bible is. The doctrines that we draw from the Bible is the rain—the water. These provide the nutrients. God has given us the soil that we have as well. We are His garden, and we are the dust of the earth, as we know from Genesis chapter 1. Every garden and every pasture and every farm field, no matter how well tended, has some weeds. We need to keep up with those weeds, so they don’t overtake the garden or the field. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to maintain the garden soil and make it good for God. It can’t be stony, which means hardhearted. And we can’t allow Satan or the demons to pluck the seed. We are focusing on the thorns here. We can’t let thorns, thistles, and briars exist in our garden and overtake it because they can destroy what God is trying to do in us.
Let’s turn to Proverbs chapter 24, verse 30: “I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.”
The lesson here obviously is that we have to keep up with the garden daily. Any good gardener or good farmer knows you can’t slack off during the summertime. If you were to leave your garden for a month or so and not bother with it, it would soon get overgrown with weeds.
We have driven by an old farm where people are not maintaining it anymore, or for whatever reason it has gone out of production. We have gone by a farm that used to be a beautiful field of whatever crop it was that they were growing or a beautiful orchard. Or as mentioned here, you’ve seen a beautiful vineyard. Then you go by there in a few years, and it has weeds that are tall. There are little trees and scrub growing up. The wall or the fence is broken down. It’s a wreck. It would be a tremendous amount of work to bring that field and that garden back into production. So it is with our lives. If we keep up with the thorns, the briars, and the thistles and pull them out when they are small before they take root and choke things off, it is much easier. They picture our sins. If we allow these things to grow, they get the upper hand. We understand we are God’s field. We are God’s garden. He gives us the nutrients, but we have to maintain that soil.
Turn to I Corinthians chapter 3. It is a Scripture we often read. We are going to break into this thought because we have read this so many times. We are just going to read I Corinthians chapter 3, verse 9: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.”
We are His fellow workers. He gives us the nutrients, as we mentioned. He gives us the sunlight and the rain, but we have to maintain that. We are working together with God, and we are the field. We are the actual dirt—the dust of the ground, so we have an obligation here to take care of our garden and keep the weeds out. We need to keep after them.
Turn to the Old Testament in Isaiah 61, verse 11: “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”
God’s garden—His people—are in His mind what He is working with to produce a crop that will help the entire world. The garden (the earth) brings forth what is sown in it. If we have thorns, briars, and thistles, that’s what’s going to come. God does not want that. He wants us working with Him in tandem with Him to control those things and to get them out of our lives—our proverbial gardens.
If you would, turn to Jeremiah chapter 31. There are many Scriptures that show we are God’s garden, His farm field, His vineyard, and His orchard. We could do a whole sermon just on that. Jeremiah chapter 31, verse 12: “Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, streaming to the goodness of the Lord—for wheat and new wine and oil, for the young of the flock and the herd; their souls shall be like a well-watered garden, and they shall sorrow no more at all.”
We see that what God intends is that His garden will produce so much wheat, and new wine, and oil that the whole world will understand where they can get this good food and good nutrition. They will understand what it is to turn their soil into a garden for God. When they do this, and this is something we should see in our lives, there is less sorrow. The more we do things correctly and the more we bring those thorns, thistles, and briars under control, the less sorrow there is. The more joy we have.
God, as I said, provides the light—His truth. He provides the rain—the doctrines. He provided us the soil. It is the very life and essence that we have from the dust of the ground. He even provides the seed, as we saw with the Parable of the Sower.
We have been told from the very beginning of the Bible to dress and keep our soil and maintain the garden. We will go all the way back to the beginning now to the Garden of Eden when God put Adam in the garden. Let’s turn to Genesis chapter 2. God charged Adam with a very important job here. After God had put Adam in the garden and gave him instructions about what to eat, then He said this in verse 15.
Genesis 2, beginning in verse 15: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”
God put him in the garden and said, you must tend and keep this. Work on it. Eat only those things that are good for you. Don’t imbibe of the things that are bad from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
BATTLE THE THORNS
Adam and by extension all of mankind has their free will (their free moral agency) to exercise choice. We can exercise and grow our character by choosing to do what’s right. By choosing to do it right and refusing to do what’s wrong, we are controlling the thorns, the thistles, and the briars that could overtake our garden.
We know what happened when Adam and Eve did sin and got pushed out of the garden. We won’t read the whole story. Let’s go to Genesis chapter 3 to get the upshot of the story of what happened when they were forced out of this beautiful garden. There was really only one choice: eat good food and stay away from the one thing that was bad. After they had made the wrong selection, different seeds entered their lives. There were different things, and God describes it very well here. He says how difficult it will be for Adam and Eve from that point on.
Genesis 3, beginning in verse 17: “Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”: Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.’”
Of course, physically this is true. It is hard for us to produce food from the ground anymore, and it is a constant battle with thorns, thistles, and briars. But as we saw with the Parable of the Sower, God is more concerned with us as the dust of the earth and the thorns, thistles, and briars in our own lives—in our own garden. There is a double meaning here back in Genesis in which we must overcome, grow, and control the weeds in our garden. We must develop holy righteous character.
If we would back up a little further in Genesis 3, we can go back to verse 14: “So the Lord God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.’”
It is speaking of the seed of Eve, which would be Jesus Christ many generations later. He would beat this serpent who had introduced bad seed into human kind—into the human dust of the earth. He was cursed by having to beat every human being. He caused them to sin and the wages of sin is death. If he failed even once, God would gain the upper hand. Of course, with Jesus Christ, He did bruise the head of Satan and will ultimately destroy his kingdom. Then in the Millennium and beyond, we won’t have Satan sowing bad seeds among our garden and among all of mankind. Until that time, we have a job to do and that is to take care of, tend, and keep our own gardens. We need to pull out every thistle, every briar, and every thorn to get it to be a fruitful garden for God character-wise. We should bear the fruits of the Spirit.
Most of you have worked in a garden. Sometimes you come upon a thistle plant that is growing up in your row. You don’t know how to grab that thing, so you don’t get poked by it. You have to grasp it very carefully to pull it out. It is like that with a lot of thorns and thistles. If you get even a rose bush thorn in your finger, it hurts a lot. Sometimes these little spines that you can get from burdock or whatever get in your hair. They get in your skin. They are hard to pull out. It is a painful and difficult process to pull thorns, thistles, and briars out of your life. That’s because thorns and thistles pierce the skin. The entwine themselves.
Actually the concept of Velcro comes from briars. The person who invented Velcro just looked at weeds. He saw that the weeds had little hooking devices that could get into hair and clothes, and they were very difficult to extract. He developed the product called Velcro that uses that same principle to grasp. That is the thing with sin. It gets a hold of us. It gets a place to grab on to us, and then it is hard to pull out. If we are not careful, it sprouts and grows. We have seeds that could literally overwhelm us, and our garden would look like that one we saw in Proverbs. It would be all overgrown. God would look at us and say, that garden is gone to total pot. It’s no good anymore. We don’t ever want that to happen, so we have to keep working at it. We have to tend and keep our gardens.
DO SOMETHING WITH OUR LIVES
Turn to the New Testament. Let’s go to Hebrews chapter 6. We will begin in Hebrews 6, verse 1: “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead , and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.”
Paul says, let’s get beyond the basics, and let’s do something with our lives.
Continuing in verse 4 of Hebrews 6: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away [which means totally to reject], to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
This is the point I want to make here in verse 7: “For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns, and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.”
Here Jesus Christ talks about a person who has been called and who has been given the Holy Spirit. They start to understand the truth. If they were to totally reject the truth, Christ only dies for us once. He says, if you are not careful and you start producing thorns and briars and your garden is overwhelmed, you are getting close to being worthless. To become completely overwhelmed by thorns and thistles is very hard to do, so don’t get me wrong on that. But it shows you we don’t even want to get that started. We don’t want to allow those things to grow in us and produce bad fruit and not deal with it.
If we continue on here, those blessings are truly wonderful if we work on our garden. In verse 9 of Hebrews 6 Paul shows us how confident he is that we will do the right thing. Hebrews 6, verse 9: “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minster. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
There is that term “sluggish,” and we could go back to Proverbs 24. There is that garden that has been totally let go. Sometimes in our lives we get a bit overwhelmed with things, but God says, I will help you. Then you turn back and work on that garden. We will work on that together. It’s always best to keep things under control rather than to restore a garden that has gone uncared for for too long. Therefore there is a principle involved here of continuing to be diligent. Pull out the thorns, the thistles, and the briars which are those sins that ensnare and pierce us.
PIERCED BY SORROWS
There are many examples of what this piercing is like. I want to turn to I Timothy. All sin is piercing to us. Let’s go to I Timothy chapter 6, verse 6: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
That is a thorn, a briar, or a thistle. Greed can become something that pierces us with many sorrows, and it leads to a lot of heartache. It is like that with all manner of sin, whether it’s pride, ego, an angry personality full of strife, lust, or envy. Any of these are literally a thorn, a thistle, or a briar that has gotten into our character. It will pierce us with many sorrows and lead to a lot of heartache. The sooner we pluck it out the better. That is where we get that joy of having overcome something. It is that joy of knowing that we have beaten or overcome a bad habit. We will have more joy and peace within us, and we share that with other people. That’s where the blessings come in. It is a principle that we need to keep on top of all the time.
If you back up to verse 3 of I Timothy chapter 6, Paul says this: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.”
Paul says many of these characteristics we have to avoid. He zeros in on greed. But anything that puffs us up, gives us a big ego or pride, or causes arguments is something that is a thorn that needs to be dealt with. We need to work on that in order to make our garden more of a fruitful place for God so that we are developing the holy righteous character that we need to have to be more like Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is not ashamed of us just because our garden has some weeds in it. He knows every pasture, every garden, and every field has some weeds. None of us can say that we are totally without thorns, thistles, and briars. That would be wrong to say. We all have things that are in us that we need to work on and pull out. Jesus Christ is not ashamed that His people are like that. He wants to see that we are working on it with Him.
CROWN OF THORNS
Let’s go to Matthew chapter 27 for an interesting thing that occurred when Jesus Christ was about ready to be hung on the cross. Let’s go to Matthew chapter 27. We will start in verse 27: “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.”
They were getting ready to crucify Him. They had gathered around Him.
Continuing in verse 28: “And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.”
They were mocking Him while saying, You say You are a king. Kings wear scarlet robes.
Verse 29: “When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Then they spat on Him and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.”
Satan inspired these men to mock Jesus Christ as a king. It was Satan who was the god of this world (with a little “g”). He was the king of this earth (with a little “k”). He was mocking Jesus Christ saying, You call Yourself a king. The reason I believe they took a crown of thorns was to say He was the King of the Jews and to say He was the King of Christians. Satan was saying, You are just a king of a bunch of sinners! I can put thorns, thistles, and briars into their lives, and that’s all you can be the king of. They are a bunch of sinners, and the wages of sin is death.
Satan was mocking Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ didn’t say a word. He went on to die on the cross, thereby beating thorns, thistles, and briars if we allow Him to work in our lives. The joke ends up being on Satan after all. But Jesus Christ had to go all the way through with His sacrifice for mankind and to bear these mockings and this cruel treatment. He became the King of sinners whom He is helping to form a beautiful field within a beautiful garden. He will make this earth the fruitful place He always intended it to be. Satan is the one who is going to lose out.
OUR HIGH PRIEST
Let’s go to Hebrews chapter 4. We will see that Jesus Christ is not ashamed to be the King of sinners. Hebrews 4, verse 14: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”
After the resurrection, He was passed through to the heavens.
Continuing in Hebrews 4, verse15: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
We can boldly go to our High Priest who is not ashamed of us. We can say, I have let my garden get somewhat overcome by weeds. I have thorns and thistles in my life that I have to deal with. Please help me! He is the Master Gardener, and His sacrifice provides us all the things that we need if we will let Him work our soil with us. We need to cooperate.
We have to use our free will to want to pluck out the bad habits and the sins of our lives. He is not ashamed of us. He knows what it is to be human and how weak we are. He shared in this human life, and He knows what it is like to have to deal with the hot sun and work all day. He knows what it is like to hit our thumb with a hammer and to fight off Satan’s temptations. He knows that we are weak enough that we are going to fail, unlike Him. But because He led that perfect life and was a Seed that bruised Satan’s head—the one human life that Satan could not overwhelm with sin—we now all have access to the help we need to gain control of the weeds, the thorns, the thistles, and the briars in our lives.
To that end, let’s continue to work with Him. Pentecost is coming up soon, and we get to offer an offering to God of character. We started with Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread when we were working to put sin out of our lives and working on plucking thorns, thistles, and briars out of our soil. Let’s not quit now. We only have a few weeks to go to Pentecost. Continue to work on those things and to develop good habits, so that after Pentecost we will have an easier time keeping our garden clean. On Pentecost we will be able to offer a good offering to God, and we will be able to say, yes, I have allowed You to work in my soil starting with Passover. I want You to have a beautiful garden in each of us individually and a beautiful Church as we all work together. To that end, let’s help Jesus Christ work in our lives to pluck the thorns, the thistles, and the briars out of our soil.