February 24, 2019
There is a quote from Martin Luther on the title page of my Lutheran Study Bible, which says, “Whoever believes and holds to Christ’s Word, heaven stands open to him, hell is shut, the devil is imprisoned, sins are forgiven, and he is a child of eternal life. That is what this book teaches you —the Holy Scripture-- and no other book on earth.” These beautiful and comforting words are certainly true. The words of holy Scripture are the words of Christ and in them are forgiveness of sins and eternal life. St. John writes near the close of his Gospel, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Those who hear and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ have eternal life, even if they die; they have forgiveness of sins, peace with God, a reserved seat at the heavenly banquet with the Apostles and saints with Christ Jesus at the head of the table.
Yet, as Jesus teaches us in this Gospel lesson, not everyone who hears the word of Christ believes it and is saved. In our Gospel lesson Jesus warns us of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, which prevent the word of God from growing to maturity in our hearts, so that we are shut out of heaven. This is a solemn warning from our Lord, who desires all people to be saved, and who himself purchased the salvation of all through his own bitter suffering and death. Whoever believes will be saved. But whoever does not believe will be condemned (John 3:18; Mark 16:16).
The seed, which the sower sows is the word of God. Jesus divides the scattering of the seed, which is the preaching of the Gospel, into four groups. The first group is the seed that falls along the path, is trampled underfoot and devoured by birds. These are they, who hear the word of God but the devil comes and snatches the word of God from their hearts, so that they do not believe and are not saved. Not everyone, who hears the word of God believes it. Even among those, who gathered to hear Jesus preach in person, many simply didn’t believe the words he spoke. They believed the devil’s lie. And even today, Satan manipulates people to deny the truth and power of God’s word.
The second group, which fell upon the rock are those, who hear the word of God, and they actually believe it! Yet, because they have no root, they cannot withstand the temptations of the world. Tribulation and persecution become too severe of a cross, so they throw their faith in Christ away like sailors throwing heavy cargo over a ship during a storm.
The third group, which fell among the thorns, likewise believed the word for a while. They had faith. But when the anxieties and riches and pleasures of this life come, they choke the word, so that it cannot produce mature fruit. This third threat of the thorns is perhaps the most dangerous in our current setting. It’s not like the second group, which deals with persecution. We don’t really get persecuted that much here in America, although that is likely coming rather soon. Rather, what kills our faith is our riches and pleasures of this life. As Jesus said, ‘You cannot serve God and mammon.” And don’t we have a lot of mammon. We’re rich. We have more material wealth than the vast majority of human beings in world history. And this wealth, and the cares and anxieties, which go with it choke out our faith in Christ. They clog up our ears, so that we don’t pay attention to the words of Jesus. For fleeting pleasures, we give up eternal riches in heaven with Jesus, our priceless treasure. And we even teach our children to be anxious and distracted, planting thorn hedges around them before their time. Sports, jobs, and other events that contribute to their busy schedule choke the word of God out of the hearts of children. They learn by a clear example and at a tender age that the real world just doesn’t have time for the words of Christ.
Yet, there is a fourth group, which does fall among good soil. These are they who hear the word of God with a noble and good heart and bear fruit with patience. It is this last group, which Martin Luther describes in his aforementioned quote, to whom heaven is opened and hell is shut. Yet, it must not be misunderstood that this final group does not contend with the devil, world, and sinful flesh. This group bears fruit with patience, that is, with steadfast endurance and longsuffering. They contend with the birds and the stones and the thorns. They are us. Do doubts never assail you? If they do not, then you are better than even the Apostles, who witnessed the risen Christ after his crucifixion and burial. Jesus had to rebuke their doubt even as he prepared to ascend to the right hand of his Father in heaven.
While we might not have to contend with physical persecution for our faith in God’s word, discrimination against Christians is coming and has already come to our nation and communities. Your children are exposed to it every day in school from their peers, teachers, and text books, from the TV shows they watch and the websites they visit. And this doesn’t even mention the physical and emotional suffering that is cast upon us, which makes praying exhausting and can make it difficult to listen and comprehend what God’s word is saying.
While we Christians are not of the world, having been called out of the world through faith, we are still in the world. And our flesh has still those desires that war against the Spirit, which succumb to anxiety, which distract with cares for pleasures that fade. Our own children are exposed to such cares, even as we diligently bring them to hear God’s Word, pray with them, and teach them.
St. Paul himself learned the patience of a Christian as he endured floggings, stonings, and imprisonments for the sake of the Gospel. God even permitted Satan to place a thorn in his own flesh to harass him to keep him from becoming conceited. So, the message is not that the word of God creates faith in Christians, because Christians are not assaulted by the devil, world, or their sinful flesh. But rather, Christians endure all these things, holding fast to the words of Christ, knowing that they are the words of eternal life.
Yet, this should not invoke pride in us, who hold fast to Jesus’ words. Rather, St. Paul boasts in his weakness. This is because, you believe the word of God by grace as a gift from God, not because you are better than others. Jesus said to his disciples, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” That is to say, their faith in Christ is a gift from God. Again, in Luke chapter 10 Jesus says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” It is the Father in heaven, who has chased away the birds, broken up and removed the rocks, and uprooted and burned the thorns, so that your faith might grow.
And how does God accomplish this? How does he turn unsuitable soil into good soil? He does this through his word. Our Lord says, “For as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return their but water the earth making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
On Wednesday the Catechism students learned about the power of God’s word in Baptism. Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word. That means that Baptism is God’s work, not ours. That means that Baptism has the power to save, to forgive sins, to create faith, to cause a sinful creature born of flesh to be a saint born of the Spirit. And the word of God continues to carry such power wherever it is employed. This is why it is so important to be immersed in the word of God each day. This is why it is so important to go to church every week, to hear the word, which does not return to God empty, but opens heaven to sinners and closes hell.
The word of God is powerful, because it carries the power of Christ himself. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. All Scripture in the Bible is Jesus’ word, not just the words, which he speaks in the Gospels. Just as the world was created through Christ, so also no word of Scripture was written without Christ.
The central point of the entire Bible is Jesus Christ, his death, and resurrection to save sinners. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) With these words our Lord makes reference to his own death and burial. Yet, he teaches that through his death, he bears much fruit. That fruit is you and me and all who believe on Jesus Christ for our free salvation from sin, death, and hell.
Jesus overpowered the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, conquered them, and rooted them out not by brute force, but by his death for our sins. In humility Christ crushed the pride of Satan and this world. In poverty he won riches for us that this world could not gain if it held its weight in gold. This is because Christ Jesus did not use his divine power to overthrow God’s just law, but to fulfill it; he took on our human flesh, so that he could bear the penalty of our sins in our place. He died, so that we might live, not by our own works, but through faith in him alone.
The word of God has power to save, not because it gives us a list of perfect rules that if we follow them perfectly, then we will be perfect. The word of God has the power to save, because it has the power of the Holy Spirit to create faith and because the word of God plants Jesus Christ in our hearts, who himself overcame all our enemies to earn us salvation.
The word of God is despised. It is constantly questioned and its power denied by those, who think they are smart, while they remain fools. The cost of hearing and believing it is thought too high by those who suffer. And its value is appraised much lower than the junk that will corrode in landfills in a few decades. Yes, just as Christ Jesus was despised on the cross and laid in the tomb with no hope from even his disciples for him to rise again, so the word of God is despised as it is preached to anyone with ears to hear. Yet, just as Christ rose from the dead and is even now the Lord of millions upon millions of saints in heaven and on earth, so does the despised word of God grow in our hearts and bear much fruit.
The Word of God is powerful to save, because it gives you Jesus, who himself accomplished everything to save you. When you hear and believe God’s word, you receive a precious and powerful gift, which bears fruit that lasts into eternal life. Because when you believe God’s word, you receive Christ. Amen.