February 16, 2020
As Jesus preaches to this large crowd, he describes to them in a parable what is happening to the words he is preaching. He calls his word, seed, and his preaching, sowing. Jesus sows his word into the ears of his listeners. The word goes into the ears of some, but the devil quickly snatches the word away like a bird gobbling up seed on a road. Many people fall into this group. They hear the word of God. They understand the words and grammar. But they pay no attention to its meaning. Some follow the lies of Satan and follow after other religions, seeking wisdom from manmade philosophies, which cannot grasp the truth of Christ and his redemption for our human race. Others reject the notion of God completely and imagine that nature produced itself through random processes.
The word goes into the ears of others and they actually receive it with joy! They believe for a while, but at time of testing they fall away. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus teaches us that whoever would be his disciple must take up his cross and follow him. Faith in Christ comes with a cross: persecution. The most notorious of these crosses comes from intolerant governments, which forbid the preaching of the word: The ancient pagan Romans, the Communist regimes from yesterday and today, Islamic theocracies. Even in nominally Christian lands, Christians face persecution from their government. Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, who is the Dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese in Finland was interviewed by the Helsinki Police Department last Tuesday, because he is suspected of inciting hatred against a group. Why is he suspected of inciting hatred? Because as editor of the publication The Lutheran Foundation Finland, he published a booklet, which argued on biblical grounds that homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity. Of course, homosexual relationships do challenge the Christian concept of humanity. God created them male and female. Yet now, in Finland, declaring such a truth puts you at risk of punishment from the government. Meanwhile the national Lutheran Church in Finland has given into the pressure of the secular world and so, does not bear this cross.
Pastor Pohjola must bear a cross for Jesus’ sake, just as John the Baptist and the apostles bore their cross for the sake of Christ and his teaching. Yet, for many, the cross is too heavy. Even when the government leaves us alone, there is the pressure from family and friends. What will you choose? Disapproval from friends and family or being faithful to the Word of God? When the hot sun rises those seedlings that sprouted on the rocks whither up. And so does the faith of those, who desire the comforts of the flesh and the acceptance of people when these niceties are threatened.
The word is sown into the ears of yet others, but along with the good seed grow thorns. The cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life are the thorns, which choke out the word. Such unlikely culprits, don’t you think? How are cares thorns? Shouldn’t I care about what my children eat and wear, the condition of my home, the quality of my car? How are riches and pleasures of this life thorns? Don’t we pray for such things when we ask for our daily bread? Don’t I need these things? Aren’t these things gifts from God?
Indeed, food and clothing, spouse and children, house and cars, these are all things we pray for and our heavenly Father gives them to us out of his fatherly divine goodness and mercy. Yet, when we set these things above God and his word, they become false gods, idols. Yet, this appears to be the most dangerous and prevalent attack on the word in the Church today. God has made us rich. Yet, we worry more than ever and we want more than ever. We neglect hearing the word of God, so that we can work and make money. Though there are 168 hours in the week to make money, we can’t take a couple hours to listen to God’s Word. We have 24 hours in the day, yet we can’t afford 15 minutes to read scripture and pray. In our foolishness we value the gifts God gives us for our body more than the gift he gives us for our eternal soul, which will give eternal life to our bodies as well!
Although, it might be understandable that the weak in faith would choose the necessities of the body over the necessities of the soul at times of weakness, we abandon the word of God for nearly any reason we can find. Sports, sleep, vacation, friends. We teach our children that literally anything is more important than hearing the words of Christ. The thorns that choke out the word are made up of the least threatening things: job, kid’s sports, hobbies, friends, family. Yet, these good things truly are thorns that choke out the saving word when we place them before God and his word.
Finally, there is the good soil. The word is sown in their ears and bears much fruit. Yet, that does not mean that the good soil does not endure attacks from the devil, or trials, or thorns. They must bear all these things. Yet, Jesus says, with patience they overcome.
Despite attacks from the devil, the allurements of the world, and the weakness of the sinful flesh, these in the good soil receive the word and let it grow to produce much fruit. Yet, this is not because those who are good soil are better than those who are bad soil. They did not believe and come to their Lord Jesus Christ by their own reason and strength or overcome the devil, world, and their sinful flesh by their own power. Rather, as Jesus says, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” It has been given; as in, a gift. It is as if Jesus said, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The good soil is good soil, because God made the soil good, not because some individuals are better than other or have made themselves better. Salvation is a pure gift of God. Even faith, which receives forgiveness and salvation apart from works is a gift given by God. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians in chapter 1, “Even as [God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world,” (vs. 4) and “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace,” (vss. 4-6). This is what Jesus means when he says, “To you it has been given”. God makes you good soil that can receive the good seed and bear fruit.
This teaching is offensive for two reasons. First, because it offends our pride. We want to believe that we are Christians and that we will be saved, because of something we have done. Even if it’s that we chose God. Yet, Jesus makes clear, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
This teaching is also offensive, because it offends our reason. We reason that if God chose some before the foundation of the world to be saved, then he must have chosen others from the foundation of the world to go to hell. It seems pretty logical. In fact, there are many churches that teach this: God chooses some to go to heaven and he chooses others to go to hell. But this is not what the Bible teaches. Rather, holy Scripture teaches us that God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). Scripture teaches that God does not delight in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11). The Bible teaches that Christ Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
Even is this parable, Jesus shows God’s desire to save all people by how the sower recklessly throws his seed into the most hostile places. No farmer would throw his seed onto the road, or onto rocks, or in thorn bushes. Yet, God desires his word to be proclaimed everywhere, so that all may hear of his love and desire to save. Here we must make a distinction between God’s election and God’s foreknowledge. God knows everything that will happen. But that does not mean that he has chosen for it to happen. God has not chosen anyone for hell. Yet, he does know who will reject him. Yet, God’s election is not simply his foreknowledge. God does not simply know beforehand that you will believe in him. God has chosen you before the foundation of the world to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.
This is a difficult teaching and a mystery that goes beyond our human understanding. Yet, it is the truth revealed from Scripture. Faith is a gift from God, given by God to those whom he predestined. Yet, those who do not have faith cannot blame God for their unbelief. If you reject the word, it is your own fault. God desires all people to be saved, which he shows by proclaiming his word throughout the world, even to those, whom he knows will reject it. It is as Jesus said when he mourned over Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Luke 13:34).
This teaching should not lead you to be complacent. Some may think, “Well, if God chooses who will be saved before the foundation of the world, then what does it matter what I do. I can’t save myself anyway. If it is God’s will that I go to heaven or hell, I can’t change that.” That is not the message Jesus is giving us. Rather, Jesus teaches us that it is by means of his word that we are saved. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) And St. Paul warns us, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
God indeed chose you before the foundation of the world to believe in Christ, but he did not choose you apart from Christ. God does not save anyone apart from the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, which washed away all our sins. And he does not call you apart from Christ’s word. It is only through the word that you can hear and believe this Gospel of Jesus. This is why it is important for us to continue to hear the words of Christ, because that is the only way God has revealed to us that he creates saving faith and forgives our sins.
The teaching of election can seem scary, but it is actually a very comforting teaching to those who hear the words of Christ. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29) The teaching of election teaches you that you are secure in God’s hand and no one, not the devil, not the world, not your sinful flesh, can snatch you out from the safety of your heavenly Father’s hand. That is comforting. That is assurance that can stand against every attack of the devil. And how do you know that you are elect? How do you know that you are secure in the Father’s hand? “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says. By hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that Jesus died for you and has taken away all your sins, and by believing this, you know that you are secure forever.
The importance of hearing the words of Christ cannot be overstated. We have real enemies. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh all seek to destroy our faith in Christ. Yet, God promises that his word bears fruit. It does not go out from his mouth and return empty, but it accomplishes that which God purposes. So we hear the word of God with the belief that God will keep us in his hand. And we proclaim this word to our children, so that they too hear the voice of their shepherd. “He who has ears, let him hear.” our Lord says. So, let us hear. Amen.