Sexagesima Sunday

February 3, 2013

“The Sower and the Seed”

St. Luke 8:4-15


And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: "A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold." When He had said these things He cried, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" Then His disciples asked Him, saying, "What does this parable mean?" And He said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.' Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." St. Luke 8:4-15



Jesus taught with parables.  He told stories from every day life to teach about the way it is in God’s kingdom.  God’s kingdom is not a place.  It is God ruling over us by his grace.  Grace defines the nature of God’s authority over us.  Whenever you hear the words “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” from the mouth of Jesus you are hearing Jesus talk about God’s gracious authority over us, the authority centered in the forgiveness of sins.


People receive their daily bread from God regardless of what they believe.  But God’s grace benefits only those who believe in the gospel of Christ.  Grace is God’s undeserved love revealed in Christ.  It is God’s goodwill.  You cannot see or touch or taste grace.  Grace is God seeing us as his dear children.  Grace is God forgiving us sinners for Christ’s sake.  That’s what brings us into God’s kingdom and makes us righteous.  The righteousness of God’s kingdom is the obedience of Jesus Christ.  It covers us as a beautiful robe, setting us before God as saints. 


God’s grace is never deserved.  You cannot earn it.  You cannot work for it.  God forgives us all of our sins and fills us with his Spirit and sets our hearts at peace all for the sake of Jesus Christ his Son our Lord.  Grace and Christ go together.  If you have the one you have the other.  God’s grace sent Christ and Christ is the source of God’s grace.  When you know Christ you know God’s grace.  Apart from Christ – apart from faith in his life of obedience as our substitute and his suffering and death for our sins – there is no grace from God.


If the kingdom of God is not a place, where do we go to find it?  If you cannot see God’s grace, how can we know that we have it?  Jesus answers: “A sower went out to sow his seed.”  The sower is Jesus.  The seed is God’s word.  God’s word brings us God’s grace.  God’s word places us under God’s gracious authority.  It gives us the forgiveness of sins.  It gives us peace with God.  God comes to us in his word and makes his home with us.  All spiritual benefits God has to give us he gives us in his word.  Only those who believe his word receive those benefits.  They bear the fruit of faith, which is eternal life.


The sower is Jesus.  He sows his seed wherever.  The same seed is sown in the ground that won’t receive it as is sown in ground that will receive it.  It is the very same seed, the very same word.  Note this well before you get the bright idea of shaving off something here or revising something there to make God’s word more palatable to the ears and sensibilities of outsiders.  The same word that produces the fruit of everlasting life in one person produces nothing in another.  It is the same word.  The difference is the soil.


There is only one kind of seed but there are four kinds of soil:  some seed fell on the side of the road, other seed fell on rock, other seed fell among the thorns, and finally some seed fell on good ground.  Let us consider each of these in turn.


The seed that fell on the side of the road is those who hear the word of God but don’t believe it.  The devil snatches the word of God out of their hearts so that they do not believe.  They don’t believe what God says.  Only those who believe what the word says receive what the word gives.  The devil attacks faith by attacking God’s word.  The devil is bound and powerless where God’s word and faith are joined.  This is why the devil attacks God’s word.  He wants power.


The gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.  The gospel reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith.  The devil hates those whom God loves.  Since God saves sinners from their sin, from death, and from hell through faith in his word, the devil attacks faith.  He attacks faith by attacking God’s word.  Those who do not believe God’s word may see but they do not see.  They may hear but they do not understand.  Their minds are blinded by unbelief.  The word of God has the power to save them but they reject the word and with it their salvation.  This is the devil’s doing.


The seed that falls on the rock are those who hear the word of God and believe it for a while.  They receive it with joy.  They rejoice in knowing God in Christ, in receiving his grace, in trusting in the forgiveness of their sins.  They know they belong to God and that gives them deep down joy.


Then their faith is put to the test.  Life doesn’t go the way they wanted it to go.  The joy of being a Christian is tempered by the crosses that necessarily follow.  Rocky soil lacks moisture.  When the hot sun beats down on it the fresh plant withers away.  It is shallow.  It has no roots.  When trials come the faith shrivels away in the hot sun.  There’s nothing wrong with the seed.  The problem is with the soil.  God’s word never fails.  It always delivers what it promises.  Shallow faith loses God’s word when its shallow expectations aren’t met.  True faith trusts solely in what God promises.  It doesn’t confuse its personal wants with God’s word.


The seed that falls among the thorns is those who hear and believe and are choked by the cares, riches, and pleasures of life.  Faith is choked and withers away.  It’s a competition.  God’s word promises eternal life.  That’s the fruit of faith.  That’s what faith receives and that’s where faith is headed.  The seed contains the fruit within it.  Faith receives the seed and the fruit of eternal life at the same time.  But this life – what Jesus called the abundant life – is lived within a world that offers many things incompatible with it.  These things can choke out the life of faith, ultimately killing it.


Jesus mentions cares, riches, and pleasures.  Certainly a Christian should care about what’s going on in the world God has provided for him to live in.  God blesses his Christians with riches and pleasures.  But the cares, riches, and pleasures of life become thorns that threaten our life in the kingdom of grace.  They choke out this new and spiritual life.  They do so when we consider them to be of greater importance than the word of God.


The cares, riches, and pleasures of this life are vanishing before our eyes.  God’s word stands forever.  But the false promises of what is vanishing will rob a Christian of what is eternal.  Fools place their affections on what is dying while they ignore what gives them eternal life.  The thorns of life never overpower the word of God.  They overpower the faith of those who think they can file away God’s word in the hidden recesses of their heart for future reference if needed, while placing the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life first.  When God’s word is not first it becomes last.  Then it is lost.  When it is lost so is eternal life.


Then there is the seed that falls in the good soil, the ground that is plowed deep, ready to receive God’s word in sincere faith.  These are those who hear the word of God and believe it.  They hold on to it.  They treasure it.  They rely upon it.  They find in God’s word their identity, their purpose, indeed, their very lives.


It is God’s will for us that we hallow his name and let his kingdom come.  In Luther’s Small Catechism, where we ask how God does his will among us, we are given these words to memorize:


How is this done?  When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow God's name nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh; but strengthens and preserves us steadfast in His Word and faith unto our end.  This is His gracious and good will.


The devil would steal the word out of our hearts so that we don’t believe it.  He who does not believe the gospel will be condemned.  Our sinful flesh would insist on a painless Christian life free from the trials that go with being a Christian in a fallen world.  The world around us would challenge the supremacy of God’s word in our lives, leading us to set it aside in a margin to be ignored.


Against this unholy trinity of evil, our gracious God breaks and hinders their power and strengthens us in his word and faith to the end of our lives.  That is God’s good and gracious will for us.  Is it possible for a Christian to fall away?  Of course it is.  Jesus says so quite clearly right here in this parable.  The rocky soil and the thorns is the short-lived life of faith of Christians that fell away from the faith.  The popular “once saved, always saved” slogan of Evangelicalism is unbiblical and wrong.


Can a Christian be certain that he won’t fall away?  Can you?  Can you be sure of where you stand with God and that you will continue to stand no matter what comes your way?  Yes, you can be sure.  Your assurance, your certainty, your confidence, your faith lies in God’s word.


The devil will try to falsify God’s word in whatever way he can to keep you from believing it.  But look at him!  His head is crushed under Christ’s heal.  He has no power to deceive you with lies, for Christ has taken that power away.


The world will tell you that what it values is most valuable.  Yes, and those who are dying will cling to the vain hope that denying death will prevent it.  You know him who died and rose again.  His word will stand when all nations lie in the dust.  Faith knows it.  Fools deny it.


Our sinful flesh will run away from suffering as if it disproves God’s grace.  But God’s word reveals to our faith Christ’s suffering on the cross for us.  That suffering is God forgiving us all our sins.  The blood of Jesus Christ is what gives the word of God its power to forgive us and to save us.  This is how we know that the trials of life cannot disprove God’s word.  They can only confirm that God’s word cannot be broken.


I know my faith is founded on Jesus Christ my God and Lord

And this my faith confessing, unmoved I stand upon his word.

Man’s reason cannot fathom the truth of God profound

Who trusts her subtle wisdom relies on shifting ground

God’s word is all sufficient; it makes divinely sure

And trusting in its wisdom, my faith shall rest secure.  Amen