February 7, 2021
When we consider these four types of earth into which the seed is sown: the path on which the seed is trampled and eaten by birds; the rocks where the seed dries out for lack of moisture; the thorns, which choke out the sprouting plant; and finally, the good soil from which the seed grows and produces much fruit; we must be careful about the assumptions we make. The seed is the word of God, Jesus tells us plainly. These four types of earth are the four types of people who hear the word of God. And as we see, only one of the four groups is saved and produces good fruit. So, a common assumption is that those among the good soil are better than those among the path, rocks, and thorns. But this is not the case. Rather, those among the good soil are given saving faith as a gift.
Jesus says to his disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” Given, that is, as a gift. Faith is a gift from God, as Scripture clearly says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8) Those among the good soil are just as incapable in and of themselves of understanding and believing the Gospel as those among the bad earth. Again, Scripture says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) We are dead in our trespasses and sins following the course of this world and the prince of the power of the air until God makes us alive in Christ Jesus. This he does by grace. (Ephesians 2:1-5)
“Many are called, but few are chosen.” Jesus says. (Matthew 22:14) It is the chosen, elected before the foundation of the world by God’s grace, who are given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God (Ephesians 1:4). So, those among the good soil have no cause for boasting in themselves, but may only boast in the Lord who has created saving faith in their hearts. Once you boast in yourself, your trust is no longer in Christ, but in yourself. So, we must not even trust in our ability to believe in Christ. We are saved by grace through God’s mercy in Christ, not according to our works.
Yet, there is another assumption equally damaging, that those among the good soil need not beware of the dangers of the three bad types of earth. As with any parable, there are limitations. The good soil is not kept completely separate from the road, rocks, and thorns. Rather, among those who hold fast to the word with an honest and good heart, are those who are pulled away by the enemies of the word. And every Christian must endure the trials and dangers of the devil, the world, and his own sinful flesh. Those among the good soil do get accosted by the devil, wooed by the world, and betrayed by their sinful flesh. And so, they must not rely on their own strength, but on the word of Christ. And, we should be aware of the threats to our faith in this life.
The birds that gobble up the seed, Jesus says, are the devil, who takes the word from our hearts, so that we may not believe and be saved. Protect us from this, heavenly Father! Yet, how does Satan accomplish this? Well, how has Scripture shown Satan to do this and how has Satan shown himself to do this throughout history? The devil asked Eve in the garden, “Did God really say.” And he’s been playing that same trick ever since. “Did God really say? Do you really want to believe that? Does that sound fair? Does that sound plausible? And so, even in church the devil works to create doubt in your heart at the preaching of God’s word. And he even goes after the preachers themselves, so that many churches preach and teach a false gospel, rejecting what is unpopular or difficult to accept. Satan takes the word of God from Christians’ hearts through false doctrine, which rejects God’s truth for the opinions of men.
And not only in church does the devil attack, but out in the world. Through television, and countless forms of entertainment and education, Satan works to rob God’s word from the heart of believers. Young people go off to college, which has proven to be the most dangerous place for the faith of young Christians, and while there Satan robs them of God’s word and fills them with ideas that will fade with the grass. All Christians should beware the lies of Satan, which question the clear words of Scripture.
Jesus says those among the rocky soil are those who believe for a while, but at a time of testing fall away. Christians must endure testing. And they do not get to choose where and when and how they are tested. Testing is what it sounds like. You can either fail or pass. Failing is to fall into sin. To pass is to resist temptation, not fall into sin, and to increase in faith. Those among the rocks with a shallow faith cannot endure testing. When given a cross to bear on account of Christ, or a temptation into sin, or persecution, they abandon the faith. This is a danger for Christians. This is why we should always pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” And when we see that we are weak and when the burden of being a Christian is heavy, to go to Christ for strength. Those among the good soil are not those who are never tempted or even who never sin, but rather, when they sin, they repent and seek forgiveness for Christ’s sake.
Those who fell among the thorns are probably the most familiar to us. Jesus says the cares and riches and pleasures of life choke out the word. We see this all the time. Why do Christians stop going to church, where they hear the word of God? Because the cares, riches, and pleasures of life distract them and become more important to them. Why do Christian families neglect to have devotions? Why can’t they take a few minutes for God’s word and prayer each day? Because there are too many other things to care about. And so, the word of God gets choked out. The fruit breaks off the vine before its ripe, and the plant dies. Not a day should go by that you do not cast away the idols in your life, which distract you from Christ and his word. If you are choosing some care or pleasure in life at the expense of hearing God’s word, remember the warning of the thorn bush! Repent and seek Christ in his word.
Yet, those that fell among the good soil are those who hear the word of God, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. With patience means that they must endure attacks of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. Yet, they endure. How? By holding fast to the word. We are saved by grace apart from our works. Faith is a gift of God. Yet, this gift is not given without means. It isn’t just dropped from the sky or infused in your heart while you’re dreaming. The gift of faith is given and strengthen through the word of God.
This is why Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Saving faith comes from hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). God promises that his word does not return to him empty, but will accomplish that which it purposes (Isaiah 55:10-11). The purpose of the word of God is to create faith in our hearts, so that we are saved from eternal death, as St. John writes, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
Don’t be confused by the fact that God has chosen the elect before the foundation of the world. This does not mean that God does not desire all people to be saved. He desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). This is why Christ has commanded that the Gospel be preached to the whole world. Neither assume that the elect can be saved apart from hearing and believing God’s word. You can know nothing of your election apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which promises forgiveness of sins to all who believe. The teaching of election is meant to be a comfort for those who gladly hear and believe the Gospel, not to those who despise God’s word.
The word of God is so precious, because it gives us Jesus. Jesus says that unless a kernel fall to the ground and die it will not grow to bear much fruit (John 12:24). He was speaking of himself. He needed to die for our sins on the cross. Jesus is the seed that is buried into the ground dead and rises to new life to bear much fruit. We are that fruit! St. James tells us that the implanted word is able to save our souls (James 1:21). And St. Peter writes that we are born again by imperishable seed through the living and abiding word of God. The word of God plants Jesus in our hearts, so that we die to sin and live to righteousness.
The word of God, which saves is received through faith and not by works. This is because the saving word of God, that is, the Gospel does not command works, but promises salvation. Jesus has done all the work for us. He has died for our sins in our place. He has opened the gates of heaven to all who will believe in him. This is why this word is so precious. It gives us the kingdom of heaven as a gift. We must cherish Christ’s word and guard it at all times from all enemies, whether from the devil, the pressures of this world, or even our lazy and stubborn hearts, which would rather be attached to something transient and mortal. We should seek to hear and learn God’s word at all times, teach it to our children, and hold it as our dearest treasure, because it has the power to forgive our sins, create and preserve faith, and defend against the devil and all temptation.
Jesus says that those who hold fast to the word with honest and good hearts bear fruit with patience. He is speaking of the fruit of faith, which is love, peace, charity, gentleness, self-control, and things like these. These fruits can be a comfort, because they are a sign that the word of God is alive within you. When you forgive those who sin against you, you are comforted, because you are reminded that God has forgiven you for Christ’s sake. Yet, we must remember that we are not saved, because of the fruit we bear. We bear good fruit, because we are saved. If you want an apple orchard, you don’t just buy bushels of apples and stick them on trees. You must plant apple trees. And so, you cannot make yourself a Christian by bearing good fruit, but you must start with the seed, the word of Christ, which is the power of salvation to all who believe it.
When we believe the promises God makes to us in his word, we receive everything Jesus won for us through his death and resurrection. We inherit the kingdom of God! May no delusion from the devil, the world, or our sinful flesh ever rob us of this greatest treasure. Amen.
Lord, keep us steadfast in Your word. Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son, And bring to naught all He has done.