Sexagesima Sunday| Luke 8:4-15| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| February 20, 2022
Jesus does every preacher a great kindness by interpreting this parable for us. The seed, which the sower sows is the Word of God. Yet, we must speak for a minute about the content of that Word. What is the message of this Word? Every preacher must preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), which includes both the Law and the Gospel. Yet, while the Law is necessary to break up the hard soil of peoples’ hearts and bring them to repentance, the Law cannot save a person, nor can it bear fruit. Jesus says that this seed saves those who believe it. “The devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” This means that those who believe this word are saved. But the Law does not save those who believe. It is not the hearers of the Law who are justified, but the doers of the Law (Romans 2:13). Neither does the Law bear good fruits, but rather, it incurs debt upon the laborer. The Gospel, however, does save those who believe and it produces good fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long suffering, goodness, faithfulness, kindness, self-control. The Law can demand such things of a person, but it can never accomplish them. The Gospel causes the believer to produce these fruits willingly.
So, the seed, which is sown, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It proclaims that God sent his own Son into the world to save sinners, to live in obedience in their stead, to suffer and die for their offenses against the Law, so that whoever believes in him shall be saved. The Gospel declares forgiveness of sins to all people, purchased by the priceless blood of Christ. This Gospel is always preached with the call to repent of sins, yet it always promises free forgiveness of all sins for Christ’s sake. And it is this Gospel, which our Lord Jesus Christ commanded to be proclaimed to every creature, with the promise that whoever believes and is Baptized will be saved (Mark 16:15-16).
Yet, in this parable, Jesus warns us of three obstacles to the Gospel taking root, growing, and producing much fruit. These obstacles are the road, where feet trample the seed and birds devour it; the rocky soil, where the plant has no moisture and dries up, and the thorn bush, where the thorns choke out the Word.
The first obstacle, Jesus explains, is the devil. As the birds snatch up the seed, so Satan snatches the Word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Satan does this by lying. The Gospel is most difficult to be believed by those who deem themselves smart. This is why Jesus says that the Father has hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children (Luke 10:21). The wise in this world consider the proclamation of the cross foolishness. They elevate their own opinions and refuse to humble themselves before God’s Word. They make objections to the faith and demand that God explain their objections before they believe. And of course, Satan insists on these objections. He does not want you to humble yourself before God’s Word. He demands that you demand an explanation from God, and until he gives it, you will not believe. And so, the Word is snatched from peoples’ hearts. They do not believe and are not saved.
The second obstacle is the world, which brings persecution and testing. As the rocks block the roots from reaching the moist soil, so the pressures of the world keep the hearers of the Gospel from continuing to hear and trust in it. The early church saw this. Pagan governments forbid many Christians from gathering for worship. Some gathered in secret, yet most obeyed the government’s demands and forewent meeting together as the body of Christ. Many were commanded to sacrifice to the emperor or to other false gods. Some refused even under threat of torture and endured horrific punishments for their faithfulness to the Gospel, beatings, being burned by hot irons and boiling oil, being lit on fire, fed to beasts, and impaled. Many received the crown of martyrdom, but most rejected their Lord and sacrificed to the false gods.
Of course, we don’t fear such torture today as American Christians. But we certainly endure the pressures of this world and persecution. Two faithful Lutherans in Finland, a once Lutheran country, are facing two years in prison for writing and publishing an article that teaches the Biblical teaching on men and women. They are accused of hate speech, because the article calls homosexuality a sin. And we are in danger of such persecution here in the United States. There are currently bills that have either been passed or are being considered by congress, which could lead to the government punishing Christians for publicly declaring the teaching of the Bible concerning homosexuality and transgenderism. Yet, even without this governmental persecution on the horizon, today we face pressure from our peers to be silent concerning certain topics. “Don’t talk religion in polite company.” And so, as Christians grow ashamed to confess the Gospel before others. The seed withers in the sun and dies.
Finally, there is the sinful flesh, which worries and lusts after the cares, riches, and pleasures of life. These cares, riches, and pleasures choke out the word as thorns choke out a plant. This obstacle seems less scary than the other two: Satan and persecution. Who is scared of riches and pleasures? But these thorns prove to choke the lion’s share of the seed.
Most congregations only get about a quarter of their members to attend on any given Sunday. Where are the other seventy-five percent? Well, most churches will have a number of homebound members, whom the pastor must visit to preach to them and give them Communion. And there are always some who are sick, or traveling and must attend a church on the road, or in college and must attend the church near their college. But that doesn’t come close three-fourths of the congregation. So, where are the others?
Most of them have chosen to pay attention to the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life instead of coming to hear God’s Word and grow in faith, so that they may be saved and bear good fruit. They have heard the word, but they have chosen not to continue hearing it. Rather, they must go to work, or sleep in, or spend time with family, or go to a sporting event, or go fishing or hunting or sit and watch TV. They have ignored Jesus’ warning about the thorns, which will choke the Word out of their hearts, so that their fruit does not mature.
Now of course, even those who do go to church regularly can have the Word choked out from their hearts as they pursue the cares and pleasures of this life. They can be silenced by the pressures of this world, and the devil can rob the truth and comfort of the Gospel from their hearts. Yet, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Those who go to church continue to hear the word that alone has power to save your souls and which alone can produce good fruit. In fact, going to church is a visible fruit of faith. It’s like apples on a tree, which are so obvious that a child, who can’t tell the difference between a tulip and a dandelion can point and shout from a hundred yards away, “Look, an apple tree.” Christians go to church to hear the saving Word and to worship the Savior, who sows it. This activity makes it obvious that they are Christians. Yes, there are hypocrites, who lie. That’s why their called hypocrites. But their lie doesn’t make the good thing they lie about bad.
This lesson warns us against apostasy. Apostasy comes from the Greek word for “to fall away.” Apostasy is when a Christian falls away from the saving faith, when the devil snatches the Word out of your heart, or when pressures from the world scorch the Word, so that it dies, or when the cares of this life choke the Word out of your heart. Jesus warns us against apostasy, because he wants us to be saved. Yet, few heed his warning.
Imagine if you got information that a burglar to break into your house, when, where, and how he would come. What would you do? You’d call the police and give them that information, so that they would capture the bad guy before he caused damage. Yet, here we have Jesus warn us of a much greater danger, which threatens our eternal soul. And he tells us who, where, and when this attack will happen. Yet, we ignore it.
The devil stole one of Jesus’ twelve disciples from him, but we ignore the danger the devil poses to us. Jesus tells us he will divide households, because of the hatred for the Gospel. Yet, we ignore the danger of our households. It won’t happen to me. St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4 of a disciple named Demas, who in love with this present world deserted Paul. Yet, we think that our love with the present world will not cause us to desert Christ. It is arrogance that leads us to be so woefully unprepared.
Yet, Jesus gives us good news. Some seed fell on good soil. There are those who receive the Word with a noble and good heart and produce fruit with patience. With patience means they still suffered from the attacks of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. But they overcame them. They focused on the Gospel alone. They paid heed to Jesus’ call, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
How can you know that you have good soil? How can you know that Christ’s Word will grow and bear good fruit in you? Listen to the Word. Trust in the Gospel and in the Gospel alone. God promises that his Word does not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:10). It accomplishes that for which he purposes. He sows the word for the purpose of saving you through faith. The devil will attack. The world will press and scorch. The flesh will tug and choke. God himself may lay a cross on you that squeezes out your last ounce of strength. But then, when you are weakest, you are strong (2 Cor 12:10). When you can do nothing else but believe Christ’s promise of forgiveness and salvation, then do you have all the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).
Jesus said, “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) Jesus is that grain of wheat, which died and rose again. And in the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the power to bear much fruit in you. Have you ears to hear? Then listen to Christ. His Word has the power to save you. His promise of forgiveness and salvation alone can create faith in your heart and keep that faith alive. May God cultivate in our hearts good soil to receive his Word, that we may bear good fruit and be saved through faith in Christ alone. Amen.