Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
February 4, 2024
The first thing we learn from this parable of Jesus is that saving faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ. We are saved by faith, because Christ Jesus has offered Himself up as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. There is no work left for us to do to earn our salvation. By dying for our sins, Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all who believe. We receive this salvation won by Jesus as a gift through faith. And how is this salvation given, so that we may believe it? Through Christ’s Word.
St. Paul aptly explains it, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:13-15a, 17) This is why Jesus sent His disciples out into the world, saying, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)
The Word is the instrument by which the Holy Spirit creates faith in the human heart. Jesus said to His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” How is it given? Through His Word. And there is no other way for a person to be brought to faith in Christ Jesus than through His Word.
I’ve heard it many times from those who used to go to church, but no longer go, “My parents made me go to church when I was younger. That’s why I don’t go anymore.” And tragically, some parents even believe this foolishness, and will try to moderate how often they bring their children to church or will let their child decide whether he wants to go or not. But it isn’t a good idea to ask an apostate why he became an apostate. He doesn’t know. He thinks he knows, but he doesn’t. He’ll blame his parents. He’ll blame the Word of God. But he won’t blame himself. You don’t need to ask those who fell away why they fell away. Jesus tells us why they fall away. Satan comes and devours the Word from their heart, so that they do not believe and are not saved. Or they had no root, and at a time of testing they fell away. Or the cares, riches, and pleasures of life choked out the word from their hearts, so that their fruit did not mature into eternal life.
But people do not fall away, because their parents made them go to church. It is possible that their parents behaved hypocritically, made them go to church as a rule, but did not cultivate the faith at home with further teaching and setting a good example. But being made to go to church never damaged anyone’s faith. That is like saying that your parents made you brush your teeth, so you don’t brush your teeth anymore. It’s a silly and lame excuse. In fact, there is no other way to make sure that your children remain in the saving faith, (which should be the greatest desire for every Christian parent) than to bring them to church. Scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) and “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
Children do not know what they should do. That is why they have parents. Parents should make their children eat healthy food, go to bed at a reasonable time, go to school, do their school work, do chores, speak respectfully, and yes, go to church and hear the Word of God. Obviously, parents can’t force a child to believe, but neither can they force their children to learn, love, and respect. Yet, parents are still obligated to instill these virtues in their children, so they set in place the structure, which best makes this possible.
Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. If you do not hear the Gospel, then how can you believe it? Yet, God does not only tell us the obvious, that you can’t believe the good news of Jesus unless you’ve heard of him. God also promises that His Word has impressive power, that it accomplishes that for which He purposes (Isaiah 55:10-13). When you bring your children to church to hear God’s Word, when you speak God’s Word at home, you are employing God’s most powerful tool to create and sustain saving faith.
Yet, as Jesus’ parable tells us and as our own experience can attest, not all those who hear the preaching of the Gospel continue in the faith. They listen for a while, but then they stop. For some, they hear the lies of Satan, who snatches the Word from their hearts. They hear Satan’s lies much more than they hear the truth of God’s Word. They hear Satan’s lies on TV, the internet, in books and magazines, the radio, in school; lies that God did not create the world, that Jesus isn’t God or that all religions are the same, lies that they should worship themselves and indulge in their base desires. Those who listen to Satan’s lies do not know that they are listening to lies. They think they have become more enlightened and freed from the shackles of Christian dogma. But in fact, Satan has closed their minds to the truth of God’s love for them in Christ Jesus, and he has bound them to selfish and sinful desires, which will ultimately lead to death and hell.
Others fall away, because of testing. They find that they are not willing to suffer for the sake of Christ, so they avoid Christ to avoid the suffering. This is the most natural thing in the world. Avoid suffering. Yet, sometimes suffering is good for you. But they don’t think of that as their faith dries out and dies. They don’t recognize their fleeing from suffering as fleeing from the saving faith. Others fall away, because the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life choke out the word. Jesus says that you cannot serve God and mammon. He calls mammon and its ilk thorns, which choke out saving faith. But those who fall away don’t look at them as thorns. They look at them as blessings. They are so glad to have these thorns, that they don’t even notice that Christ’s Word has been choked out.
This is why you shouldn’t listen to those who fell away for the reason for why they fell away. They don’t know. They didn’t recognize the devil when he came to snatch the Word from their heart. They fled from testing, instead of enduring it to become stronger. They loved the pleasures and riches of this life more than the treasure of eternal life in heaven, so that they didn’t recognize the thorns choking out their love for Christ. You can’t blame Christ’s Word or Christ’s Church or Christian parents, who taught Christ’s Word and brought their children to church, for those who fell away. Those who fall away can only blame themselves.
In our Epistle lesson from 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, we hear part of a long speech from St. Paul. He is exasperated, to say the least, because those to whom he preached the Gospel have now rejected him and His teaching for the teachings of some so-called “Super Apostles.” Paul is driven to speak as a madman, boasting about his labor, Israelite lineage, and sufferings. Paul admits that he sounds like a madman and a fool with his boasts, but he does this to prove a point. Those, so called super apostles, who boasted to the Corinthians that they were greater apostles, greater Hebrews, and greater-laborers than St. Paul were the true fools, by boasting in things that did not matter. Rather, Paul proves that the things that they boast about, he has more reason to boast, yet, Paul would not even boast in those things. He would rather boast in Christ.
The point in bringing this up is that the Word of Christ succeeds when it bears fruit with patience. The reason these Corinthians followed these false super apostles, is because they did not recognize the fruit of a true apostle. The false super apostles convinced them that Paul was weak. So, they despised Paul’s weakness and longed for the strength of these super apostles. So, just as the apostate doesn’t recognize the devil when he comes to snatch the word from his heart like a bird plucking up grain, nor does he recognize testing as an opportunity to strengthen one’s faith with patience, nor does he recognize the cares, riches, and pleasures of life as dangerous thorns, so neither does the apostate recognize what true good fruit looks like nor how it grows.
Jesus says that the seed that produces fruit is that which fell on good soil. But your worldly eyes do not recognize what good soil looks like nor how it is prepared. Good soil is prepared through the preaching of the Law and various trials. Your pride must be slain in order for good soil to be plowed. You must be convinced that you are a sinner unworthy of eternal life. And, according to God’s discretion, you must bear trials, which will expose your weakness, so that you do not trust in yourself nor any false god, but Christ alone. That is good soil. The worldly mind sees the preparation of good soil as bad. And it sees the devouring done by Satan, and the untouched rocky soil, and the thorny pleasures of life as good soil. But God must do much work to make the soil good. And this work will be painful to your pride and it will bring suffering in this life. Yet, this is for your own good. Because this is how God prepares your heart to receive Christ, his forgiveness, and salvation, as a free gift. And it is this faith, which produces all good fruit. Without this preparation, your heart will not desire Christ.
The fruit is borne through patience, that is, through long suffering. The world thinks that those who are patient in this life are weak. Yet, it is the patient who have the strongest faith. And the way to have patience is to recognize your own weakness and rely on God’s strength through Christ, for when you are weak, Christ is your strength.
The devil, the world, and our sinful nature strive to convince us that good soil is bad and that good fruit is rotten. But you do not learn what good soil and good fruit is by listening to the devil, or following the world and your sinful desires. You learn what good soil and good fruit is by listening to God’s Word. God’s Word calls you to repent of your sins every day and to live in humility. God’s Word tells you not to despair at trials, because your loving God, who sent His own Son to die to save you sends them, and He knows how best to end them. God’s Word tells you that God forgives all your sins for Christ’s sake, and that you can rely on the promises given to you in Baptism, in the Absolution, and in the Sacrament of the Altar, which promise forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to all who believe. And God’s Word teaches you that the fruit you will produce in this life all flow from faith in Christ Jesus, who grants salvation to all who trust in Him. These fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, and self-control, not boasting, pride, and self-indulgence.
Saving faith comes from hearing the message of Christ. We need saving faith until the end. So, may we listen to the message of Christ until our salvation is complete. Amen.