February 4, 2018
In this parable about the sower sowing seed our Lord Jesus paints a picture of what happens in the hearts of those, who hear the word of God preached. The seed is the word of God. The sower sows the same seed on the four types of ground.
The ones along the path where the seed is trampled and eaten by birds are those, who hear the word of God, but the devil snatches the word away from them, so that they do not believe and are not saved. There are many like this. They hear the word of God taught and preached, but it goes in one ear and out the other. The sound of God's call to repentance and the promise of the forgiveness of sins makes no more impression on them than the barking of a distant dog. They hear the word, but as a lazy student sitting slack-jawed and mindless in a boring lecture, so the word does not move them to faith.
The ones, where the seed fell among the rock spring up quickly. They receive the Gospel with joy! They believe for a while, but in time of testing, they fall away. This goes against the popular notion of "once saved always saved." There is a false teaching that says once someone believes the saving Gospel, then he will always be saved. This is not true. Jesus says clearly that there are those, who believe for a while, but fall away at time of testing.
The teaching of once saved always saved is a dangerous teaching for a number of reasons. First, if it is impossible for a believer to fall away, then the Gospel of Jesus winning the forgiveness of sins becomes neglected. The Gospel becomes only the initiation into the Christian life and further instruction focuses rather on the good works of the Christian. Secondly, if once a person has saving faith, he cannot fall away, yet we see that there are those, who believe the Gospel, but then fall away, we must conclude that they were not saved even when they believed the Gospel. There must be some other criteria to determine whether you are saved or not. This causes many to look to their own obedience and good works for their assurance of their salvation instead of the assurance of God's forgiveness through Christ.
Those who believe the Gospel can fall away. This often happens, as Jesus tells us, at times of testing. When they must suffer for the faith they take their eyes off the word and focus more on obtaining temporary happiness.
The third group are those sown among the thorns. These are they, who having received the word go along, but the cares and riches and pleasures of life choke out the word and it does not mature. These are those, who are more concerned with earthly matters than focusing on the teaching of Christ. Their job comes before hearing God's word. School is more important than hearing the Gospel. Sports, music, hunting, fishing, vacation, drinking, sleeping, and the list goes on and on. God's word, which should be the most important thing in any Christian's life soon becomes of least importance. And so, the word is choked and faith dies. People willingly give up the glories of heaven for a handful of sand here on earth.
Not everyone, who hears God's word has faith and is saved. You can't blame God for this and say he does not desire some to be saved. Scripture is clear that God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) And although, God tells us that many, who hear the word of God will reject it, he still commands that the seed be sown. God wants all people to hear the Gospel.
So, you cannot blame God for the unbelief of anyone. If someone does not accept the Gospel, that is his own fault, not God's. Yet, this does not mean that we have the power of ourselves to choose God or that we are by nature better than those, who do not believe. We were all by nature dead to sin. It is by God's grace that our soil has been worked and plowed, so that it is receptive to God's Word. Faith and salvation are purely a gift from God.
This parable is troubling, because so many, who hear the word of God, in the end do not have faith and are not saved. So, many try to make God's word more effective by changing the teaching so that it is more palatable to more people, that is, they try to improve the seed. This is often done by ignoring less popular teachings in the Bible. Many will say, "Well, all that really matters is that we love Jesus." But they won't say who Jesus is or what he has done or what he teaches, lest they cause division. And so, the seed they sow is not the seed Jesus sowed.
There were many, who heard Jesus' teaching, yet they did not accept his word, or they fell away at time of testing, or the cares and pleasures of this life choked out Jesus' word. Can we improve on Jesus' teaching? Of course not! We can only remain faithful to Jesus' words. If we change the word to try to suite the soil where it is planted, we will not be sowing the good seed. A pastor's job is to preach God's word faithfully and to trust that God will cause the growth.
This parable is intended to be a warning to us. Have you ever heard God's Word, but you didn't really listen? Has Satan from time to time snatched the word of God away from you so that you did not pay attention to it? Have you ever been tested and failed? Has suffering and temptation caused you to lose sight of the Word of God, which you once received with joy? Do life's anxieties, riches and pleasures crowd your mind and heart, so that there is no room for the word of God to grow? From time to time this is bound to happen, because you are a sinner living in a sinful world with the devil constantly on the attack. And so, each of us finds a plot of unfruitful soil in our own hearts. So, Jesus warns us.
Well, what should we do when we find the word of God under attack in our very hearts? Jesus tells us, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Keep hearing the word of God. It is through God's word that Satan is sent fleeing, that rocky and shallow soil is broken up, and thorn bushes uprooted.
Satan snatches the word of God out of the ear of the hearer by lying. He asks, "Did God really say?", even as you hear God speaking. Satan has convinced millions, who have heard God's Word to consider it as nothing more than myth and superstition. What possible defense can we have against this? God's word. God's word can defend itself and expose the devil's lies. When you are assailed by doubt, turn to God's word, read it, listen to it preached, and ask your pastor questions to defend against Satan's attacks. The truth is the greatest defense against lies.
Times of testing take a toll on our faith, yet when we turn to God's Word, we are given strength to endure our suffering. Just look at the great suffering St. Paul endured for the sake of the Gospel as we heard it in our Epistle lesson. And he was able to boast even in his suffering, knowing that when he was weak, Christ made him strong.
When the distractions of this world choke out your faith God's word again can help. You're worried about money, about your house, your free time, your children, and so on and so forth. Well, what does God's word say to you? "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink nor about your body, what you will put on. … For the Gentiles seek after these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you." (Matthew 6:25, 32-33) The promises in God's Word can encourage you and assure you that God certainly will take care of all that you need and he has something much more important than anything you can enjoy in this life.
The word of God is a great source of solid reasoning against the arguments of the devil, of encouragement in time of testing, and assurance in times of anxiety. Yet, there is something much more. The word of God is powerful. We heard God speak through Isaiah the prophet, "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." God sends his word to create faith. When a sinner repents and believes in the Gospel, this is not the accomplishment of human beings, but the success of God through his Word.
God's word is so powerful that every prophecy of Scripture either has been or will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The same powerful word of God, which caused the earth to be created out of nothing, which caused Scripture to be written and fulfilled, which caused the sick to be healed and the dead to be raised, works in your heart to create faith.
Jesus meant this parable to be a warning. Yet, he also meant it to be a source of comfort. The word Jesus sows finds its source in Christ, who himself was buried in the ground as a dead seed, yet rose to life to bear much fruit. The power of the word of God to create saving faith is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ himself.
Many great men in history have gained millions of followers by force or by eloquent wisdom; followers, who were even willing to kill and die. Yet, the word of God is so powerful to create faith that at any moment in history for nearly two thousand years millions upon millions of people have been willing and are willing to die rather than deny him, who was hanged on a tree for them.
The Gospel that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, took our place under God's judgment, pleaded guilty to our sins and suffered the full punishment for them, so that we might go free is the greatest message that ever has or ever will be spoken. It is this word that forgives your sins, so that you stand before God pure and holy. It is this word that makes your heart able to receive this faith. It is through the power of this word that you too will rise from your grave, just as God has promised. And it is this word, which Christ has commanded to be sown on every soil, even in your own heart.
Finally, the word of God when it is sown in good soil bears fruit. This means that those who come to faith love God and their neighbor and show this love in their words and actions. Our Gospel lesson gives us an example of such fruit. The disciples came to Jesus and asked him what the parable meant. It seems like a small thing, but it isn't. Many heard Jesus' parable, made no sense of it, and let it slip from their minds. The disciples, in whose hearts the word of God was sprouting and growing, asked Jesus to explain the word. Faith causes you to want to learn God's word more. That is why Christians continue to listen to sermons week after week. That is why Christians go to Bible study and ask questions and read their Bibles at home. They want to learn more. They want to be closer to Jesus. This is fruit produced by the sown word.
And fruit produces more seeds. Christians, in whose hearts the word grows, then produce fruit, which produce more seed. And they sow that seed, by teaching their children the Gospel and by confessing Christ before others in this world. And so, God produces seed for the sower and food for the eater, so that all might be satisfied.
This fruit is borne with patience, that is, with steadfastness. Those, who are saved, are not those who once heard the word of God or even those who once believed it. Rather those are saved, who hold on to the word of God and trust it with steadfastness. As St. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?", so we whose hearts have been worked into good soil by the power of the Holy Spirit also cling to Christ's word of forgiveness and grace, so that it continues to grow and produce fruit until God sends his harvesters to gather us to himself. Amen.