Sexagesima Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| February 27, 2011| 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
The same word is preached to everyone. They are all alike. They are helpless sinners without the slightest bit of spiritual discernment. They trust in their sins to save them. They know nothing about the grace of God. They are incurably idolatrous, making idols and worshipping the idols they make, looking within themselves for enlightenment. They neither love God above all things nor do they love their neighbors as themselves. They love themselves and their own wants more than they love God or anyone else. They are under the condemnation of the law and are in need of a Savior to take away their sin and damnation. This is the natural state of all humanity in their common need.
They all hear the same message. Guilty of the same sin, they need the same Savior. They hear the same message about the same Christ. He fulfilled the law for them. He suffered and died for them. He offered his innocent life up as the perfect sacrifice for their sins. Having borne all their sin he forgives sinners freely, without cost. He has forgiveness to give and he gives it. He offers everyone eternal life as a gift. He excludes no one. “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden,” he says, “And I will give you rest.”
For some, this gospel is words of life that bring life. They believe it. They hold on to it. They guard it and keep it and want nothing more from God in this life than to hear this wonderful proclamation again and again and again. The gospel is God’s words of life for them and they cry out for these words as someone in the desert cries out for water.
The gospel is words, but not just any words. They are words that bring true comfort, lasting peace, total security, and the wonderful assurance of being forgiven of all our sin and at peace with our God. Nothing is more precious than the gospel. No message or word from any source can compare. This is why God’s children love the preaching of the cross. As we sing:
To me the preaching of the cross
Is wisdom everlasting
Thy death alone redeems my loss,
On thee my burden casting
I, in thy name, a refuge claim
From sin and death and from all shame
Blest be thy name, O Jesus!
Why then do so many reject the gospel? It’s not because of any lack in the gospel. The sower sowed the same seed wherever he sowed. It’s not as if the good seed that bears good fruit was sown only in the good field. The good seed was also sown on the wayside, on the rock, and among the thorns. It was the very same seed that was sown on the good ground that sprang up and yielded a fruitful harvest.
The word of God has inherent power. The power doesn’t come from the soil. It comes from the seed. It is God’s word. Its power comes from God. St. Peter writes that we have been “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1 Peter 1, 23) St. James writes that the word implanted in us “is able to save your souls.” (James 1, 21) God’s word does not obtain its power from us. The seed doesn’t gain its power from the soil.
But many reject the word. Jesus explains why as he explains the meaning of the parable. There are three categories of people who reject God’s word. The first is those who never believe. The second is those who believe for a while and then fall away. The third is those who believe and struggle with their faith and finally lose it.
Those who never believe are compared to the seed that is sown, but falls on the path where people walk. It is stepped on and left on the ground as feed for the birds. These are those who hear the gospel and reject it outright. They don’t need a Savior. The message of the cross is foolishness to them because they honestly see no need for one. But of course this isn’t honesty – it’s the worst form of self-deceit. They want nothing of a gospel that is predicated on their own utter unworthiness and sinfulness. It is the devil’s own lie that they don’t need the gospel. The devil snatches the word of God out of their hearts. They don’t believe and they aren’t saved.
Those who believe for a while and then fall away are compared to the seed that is sown and falls on the rocky soil where it cannot take root. These are those who hear the gospel and receive it with joy. They believe. But they believe only for a while because as soon as their faith is tested it fails the test. The seed finds no root. They don’t actually take the gospel in. It serves only as a means to an end. It identifies them with a nice group of people. It gives them a sense of identity. They like the idea of a gracious God, but they assume that his grace means that they won’t suffer any adversity in life. So when trouble comes they think that there’s something wrong with the gospel they confessed. They stop confessing it. They stop listening to it. They fall away from the faith.
Those who believe, struggle with their faith, and finally fall away are compared to the seed that falls among the thorns. The gospel must compete with other things that lay claim to our time, concern, and affection. In the case of these hearers, the gospel loses. The cares, riches, and pleasures of life win. They care more about the job and making a living than they do about their soul’s needs. They want more stuff more than they want the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation the gospel provides. The pleasures of physical comfort, sexual satisfaction, popular acclaim, community status, and the respect of the respectable are simply too important to be set aside. The gospel can’t compete with their affections, because their affections are set on the things that perish.
Why do some believe? God knows. They hear the gospel with a good and noble heart. God prepares them. He plows the soil. He plows it good and deep so that the seed can go down into the ground and sprout and bring forth a harvest.
For those who don’t believe the gospel is not words of life, but words of death. Jesus says to his Christians,
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.”
Here Jesus is alluding to what God told the prophet Isaiah to write:
Go, and tell this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed. Isaiah 6, 9-10
The gospel demands nothing. But it demands everything. It won’t be consigned to a status along side of other treasures in life. It is our life, for our lives our hidden in Christ. Even the most feeble faith knows that, and so it seeks out Christ, asking for the mercy that comes alone from him. To those who seek him, he will never hide himself.
But to the fat and sassy self-satisfied spiritual self-servers who think little of the suffering and passion and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, whatever spiritual knowledge they may think they have will be ripped away from them and they will be exposed for the empty people they really are. As Jesus says,
Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” Luke 8, 18
Those who trade off the grace of God in Christ for something they deem more valuable or needful will lose everything. Such people think they know best when they relegate the gospel to storage somewhere safe and sound and far away. They make a pretense of religiosity, but there are no roots, there is really nothing there. To such would be Christians Jesus says:
So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Revelation 3, 16-17
But he won’t quench the dimly burning wick. He won’t break off the bruised reed. He plants the seed and he cares for the faith that grows from it. But this care requires a bit of plowing and pruning. And that entails pain.
St. Paul couldn’t understand his thorn in the flesh. He pleaded with his Lord Jesus to take the pain away. Jesus answered him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” God’s grace is all sufficient. And it takes root in our hearts and lives when the word of his grace is planted deep inside of our pain.
Who can understand the suffering we face? At times it is absurd to consider and it makes you think that God isn’t really paying attention or if he is he just doesn’t care. That’s what the pain would have you think. Don’t believe for one moment that pain teaches us anything good. It doesn’t. It only hurts.
But God’s word does teach us everything good. And it is in our pain that it teaches us most effectively. It is as we are rendered weak and impotent that the power of the gospel is revealed in our lives. God smashes all idols and purifies our faith. The sinner crying out to his gracious God and finding in the suffering the death of Jesus the full and free forgiveness of all his sins finds more than he could ever have hoped for. He finds God in all his majesty. He finds all the answers to life’s troubles. In receiving the word that saves his soul he finds the source of every good and worthwhile thing he will ever do or try to do. He finds himself in Christ. He finds himself a righteous saint for Christ’s sake.
This is why we Christians who have God’s word cannot get enough of it. We cannot hear it often enough. We cannot sing it too fervently. We cannot confess it too clearly. It is the source of our lives and strength. It is our comfort in every sorrow and loss. It is our hope and glory. And for it, we will suffer the loss of all things, for all other things will wither and die, but God’s word will abide forever. Amen