The Efficacious Word
Sexagesima| Luke 8:4-15| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| February 12, 2023
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 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, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”, spoke God through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 55:10-11). This means that God’s Word is efficacious, that is, God’s Word accomplishes what it intends to accomplish. God’s Word works!
This is the case for two reasons. First, God’s Word is true! The truth always prevails. Even if evil forces cover up the truth for a time here on earth, the truth will be revealed on the Last Day! (Luke 8:17) Jesus truly is the Christ, the Son of God, who took on our human flesh and died for the sins of the world. This is true! The truth will prevail. Second, God’s Word is intrinsically powerful. “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.,” declares the Psalmist from the Holy Spirit (Psalm 33:6). With His Word God created the heavens and the earth, healed the sick, and raised the dead. Nothing is impossible with God, so nothing is impossible for His Word (Luke 1:37)!
Christ Jesus died for the sins of the whole world and thereby won eternal salvation for everyone. Yet, you can only receive this salvation through faith, that is, when you believe and trust in Christ for this salvation. So, in order to deliver this salvation to you in the most effective way, the Almighty employed the most powerful tool in His arsenal, His Almighty Word. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ! (Romans 10:17)
And for these reasons, we have great confidence in the power of Baptism! Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word! Christ Jesus commanded Baptism and promises salvation through it. There are some who say that Baptism does not save, because faith alone saves. Yet, they don’t understand what they are saying. Faith alone saves, because faith alone receives salvation. God’s Word alone gives salvation. The power of Baptism is God’s Word. Therefore, Baptism saves. Baptism gives salvation and faith receives the salvation, which Baptism gives.
When a child is baptized, God’s Word declares the truth that that child is washed by God Himself, which means that the child is forgiven of all his sins. When a child is baptized, God’s Word exerts incredible power! The truth and power of God’s Word in Baptism save.
There are some who argue that babies should not be baptized, because babies cannot have faith. Well, there are many reasons why babies should be baptized, but for the sake of time, I want to focus on three today. First, babies can have faith! Those who argue that babies cannot have faith and therefore should not be baptized think of faith merely as a mental exercise. We don’t know what babies think, so they think babies don’t have faith. But faith is not simply thinking, it is trusting. A child trusts in his mother long before he’s able to say, “mama” or “I love you.”
Besides, faith is a gift from God! Jesus told His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” The disciples weren’t smarter than the pharisees or chief priests. But God gave them the knowledge of the secrets of God’s kingdom. And God is certainly able to give this faith to little children. Jesus even said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17) So, it is baffling to say that one must receive the kingdom of God like a child, but a child can’t receive the kingdom of God. We do not become more receptible to Baptism the older and wiser we get, but rather our sinful reason and pride fight against God’s Word and promise in Baptism.
Second, children should be baptized, because the promise of Baptism is for them! Jesus said that all nations should be baptized (Matthew 28:19). There is no reason to assume that babies are not included in all nations. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that babies were excluded from Baptism, but rather whole households were baptized, which presumably included babies (Acts 16:15, 33; 1 Corinthians 1:16) Besides, St. Peter proclaimed to the crowds on Pentecost in Acts 2, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off…” (2:38-39). And Jesus, when He saw that His disciples were preventing infants from being brought to Him said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:16) The blessing of Baptism is offered to babies and the promise is meant for them as well.
Third, babies need Baptism. Babies are born sinners. Sinners need to be saved, or they will go to hell. Baptism saves sinners (1 Peter 3:21; Mark 16:16). Jesus says that that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6). Scripture clearly says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). Therefore, Jesus says, a person must be born again of water and the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5).
This morning we publicly recognized the Baptism of Olivia Grace Giltner. She wasn’t baptized in the church as we normally do. She was baptized on December 8, 2020 at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines with a water dropper of purified water, while she was no bigger than a child’s doll. Why? Why not wait until she got healthier and bigger and was able to come home and have the Baptism at the church? Because Baptism is not theater. Baptism is not about getting the grandparents and cousins together for a party. Baptism is about eternal salvation. Olivia is a sinner who needed to be saved. When she was baptized her sins were forgiven, she was clothed with Christ, and she was made a child of God, just as her brother Klay was when he was baptized in the church. By the power of God’s Word, God grants salvation to sinners in Baptism.
Baptism saves sinners, because it has the power of God’s Word. But Baptism is not the only way God’s Word is given to His people. When Jesus instituted Baptism, He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Teaching is inseparable from Baptism. If you remove the Word of God from Baptism, it is not a Baptism. So also, if you remove the baptized from the Word of God, then the baptized will fall away from his Baptism.
In our parable for today, Jesus teaches a sober lesson about those who hear the Word of God. He tells us that the seed, which the sower sows is the Word of God. Yet, in three out of the four scenarios the seed fails to produce fruit. That means that in three out of the four scenarios, the Word of God fails to produce faith leading to salvation!
Yet, how can the Word of God fail? Well, it isn’t anything wrong with the Word of God! Rather, the fault lies in those who hear it, but fail to believe it! Jesus isn’t talking about bad sermons or even false teaching. He isn’t talking about unclear or confused sermons. He’s talking about the pure preaching of the Gospel. He’s talking about Baptism, which is the very Word of Christ! And yet, in three out four scenarios the Word is trampled on and gobbled up, or scorched, or choked out.
The devil snatches the Word from people’s hearts, so that they do not believe and are not saved! Instead, they believe lies! They believe the increasingly absurd lies we hear today, which discourage people from repenting of their sins and rather encourage pride in themselves, which deny that Christ is the Savior of the world, and promotes religious relativism, a mockery of the truth.
The sun begins scorch and the rocks won’t let the roots get to moisture. Pressure builds on the one who hears and believes the Gospel with joy. Those who believe the Gospel their whole lives and live according to it must suffer for their faith. They may lose friends, family, jobs, money, opportunities, and be forced to make tough decisions. And many, who once received the Gospel with joy, can’t handle the pressure. They give up. Their faith dies.
The thorns choke. The thorns don’t look like thorns. They’re pleasant. We live and die by them! They’re the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life! They’re our jobs, money, and vacations, basketball games and wrestling tournaments. At first, they seem like a harmless thing to place before God’s Word, yet an idol is still an idol. And as you boil a frog not by placing it in boiling water, but by putting it in a cool pot of water and heating it up, so that the frog becomes relaxed and unconcerned about the heat until it’s too late, so the Christian choked by the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life doesn’t even realize that the Word of Christ is being smothered from her heart until it’s too late.
Yet, the Word of God does not fail, even if most fail to receive it and keep it. The Word of God cannot return empty. It finds good soil, where people hear it, believe it, and bear fruit with patience and long-suffering. This is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit, yet the Holy Spirit always uses the Word! This is why Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” You want to make sure that you do not lose the seed, that the seed will take root, grow strong, and bear fruit to everlasting life? Then hear the Word! And let it go deep in you! This sometimes hurts. It means the plow needs to till your soil. It means you need to hear that you are a sinner, that you deserve to go to hell, that you are helpless and need to be saved. It means that you need to repent of your sins and ask God for forgiveness. Yet, with such soil, the Gospel can go deep within you and plant its seed! Then your soil is eager to hear that Jesus forgives you and saves you by the blood of His cross.
After this parable, Jesus says, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.” (Luke 8:18) It is often the case that those who decide to skip church, devotions, or otherwise ignore God’s Word are the last persons who should do so. Yet, it is those who have faith in Christ who continue to hear the Gospel and grow stronger and stronger in faith. Yet, when the faithful hear the Gospel, they are not getting too much of it. They aren’t getting more than they need. Rather, we always need more of the Gospel. The Devil, the sinful world, and our sinful flesh, with persecutions and riches are constantly trying to rob our faith in Christ from our hearts. Our sins make us guilty before God. We need to hear that Jesus forgives us. We need to hear that Christ has conquered Satan and hell and washed away our sins with His blood. What is more, we need to believe it. Amen.