The Lord’s Good Soil

Sexagesima—7 February 2021

The Reading from Holy Scripture: Luke 8:4–15  (ESV) 

4 When a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to [Jesus], he said in a parable:  5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant,  10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Falling away from the faith—losing the gift of salvation—is a very real possibility. Our whole  lives long, then, we must confess that we are beggars who are saved only by God’s grace—His undeserved favour—which He gives us freely in Jesus, apart from our good works. We are beggars who have no goodness of our own and who must live completely on what our heavenly Father gives us in His Son.

Our Lord Jesus tells a parable in which the Gospel seed falls on four types of ground. Now, you and I can take no credit for being good soil, for we confess that we are beggars who trust God to be generous to us solely for the sake of Jesus. Some people hear and believe the Gospel and are saved while others do not believe and reject God’s gift of salvation in Christ. But it is NOT the case that we who believe are naturally good soil. We must avoid thinking this way. Otherwise, we will become the proud Pharisee who prayed God, I thank you that I am not like other men and who failed to go to his home justified, forgiven (Luke 18:10).  

If we think that we are naturally less resistant and more receptive to God’s Word than other people, then we are overlooking the fact that by nature all children of Adam are equally sinful and corrupt. The truth is that the “good” quality of the soil—of the believing, fruit-bearing heart—this goodness is received only by God’s grace, His undeserved favour, in Christ. You and I are good soil—we have good hearts full of faith—only because we have been baptized into Christ.  

To be good soil that hears the Word and hold it fast in an honest and good heart, bearing fruit with patience—that kind of soil, that kind of heart, is always a gift from our heavenly Father, who gave His Son to save a world of sinners. When it comes to our salvation, the focus is not on our doing but on our being undeserving beggars who receive from God’s gracious hand. Yes, our receiving the gift of a believing heart is possible only because of our Father’s good pleasure in His Son, our Saviour Jesus.  

At our Lord’s Baptism, the Father proclaimed: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22). The Father’s good pleasure in His Son results in the Great Reversal, by which the Son bears our sins and we are clothed in His righteousness in the waters of Holy Baptism. And in the life-giving waters of Baptism, we filthy sinners are made into good soil that receives the Gospel seed with believing, fruit-bearing hearts. We are gifted with such hearts solely by God’s grace in Christ, not by any human worthiness. 

In the parable of the sower and the seed, we learn that the Gospel does not always bear fruit unto salvation. The Gospel seed can be lost by those who do not pay attention to it and rejected by those who once had received it with joy and by those who now allow their lives to be consumed by this world’s cares and pleasures. We also learn that we cannot take credit for being good soil. It is God’s grace alone that causes the Gospel seed to take root and bear fruit in human hearts. Left to ourselves, we would fall away into unbelief. But God is able to make us stand; God is able to make all grace abound to [us] (2 Corinthians 9:8a). Yes, by God’s grace in Christ Jesus, there will always be hearers such as you and me, who hear the Word in faith and who bear fruit in the Name of Jesus.

Before being crucified, our Lord Jesus proclaimed Himself as the holy seed that dies in order to bear fruit in undeserving sinners: Truly, truly, I say to you, 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). Yes, Jesus is the holy seed that died on the cross, bearing the sins of the world. Jesus hung upon the cross, stretching out His loving arms to embrace the whole world in His holy death. Then the holy seed Jesus was buried. And in the grave, He rested from His great labour of saving us, of setting us free from Satan’s bondage. Three days later, the holy seed sprouted up with great vigour; Jesus arose victorious over all of the soul’s enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. And now, Jesus plants in us the holy seed of His Gospel so that God’s Great Reversal may take place in us, so that we filthy sinners may be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. And it is His grace alone that preserves us as good soil that receives the Gospel seed with believing hearts that bear fruit in His Name. 

Now, our souls’ enemies want our hearts to remain hardened to the Gospel seed. They want to take away the Gospel so that we believe this world’s lies and false doctrines. They want the joy we initially had in hearing the Gospel to wither away in time of testing, so that our hearts grow bitter in unbelief. They want the cares, riches, and pleasures of this world to choke out the life produced by the Gospel. Sometimes, the odds seem to be stacked in their favour. We see that the majority of people do not even give the Gospel a fair hearing. We lament over how many of the baptized no longer come to hear the Gospel preached. And then we look within and we see that in ourselves, we are not naturally endowed to remain faithful; we are as prone to unbelief as everyone else.  

But God, in His good pleasure, has not left us to ourselves. He has given us His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased. On the cross, Jesus has saved us to eternal life and has put our souls’ enemies to shame. And at our baptism, Jesus clothed us in His righteousness. Now, through His Holy Word, His Holy Absolution, His Holy Supper, our Saviour keeps us connected to Him, the true Vine, so that, abiding in Him, we bear fruit, trusting in God. And trusting in God, we also serve our neighbour to the glory of God. Yes, our Saviour Jesus preserves us as good soil and grants us believing, fruit-bearing hearts. Though we struggle against sinful vice and unbelief, we rest and abide in Jesus. Yes, by God’s grace, we are ever renewed and strengthened through our Lord’s Holy Word and Supper, so that we remain in Jesus our whole lives long, even unto death.  

Our Saviour Jesus died for us, to save us from hell and to save us for heaven. And trusting in Christ crucified for our salvation, we receive the strength to endure, to persevere, to hold fast to the Word and bear fruit with patience even as we encounter life’s temptations and trials and pleasures. Persevering in the faith is absolutely crucial. The one who endures to the end will be saved; thus says the Lord(Matthew 24:13). But how can we endure unto the end when in ourselves we are so weak and we so easily grow weary and fainthearted? Only by God’s grace. For in these times of deep distress, God continually gives us His grace to fix our gaze upon the crucified Christ. [His] sinless death has brought us Life eternal, peace, and rest; Only what [His] grace has taught us Calms the sinner’s deep distress  (LSB 423.2).   

In Holy Baptism, your gracious Saviour has made you into His good, fruit-bearing soil. But to remain His good soil, we must continually strive to rest and abide in Jesus, so that no one may fall by disobedience (see Hebrews 4:11). The way to rest and abide in Jesus is to daily return to Jesus in repentance and to keep on receiving His forgiveness, life, and salvation which He is always giving through His Holy Word and Sacraments. This returning to and receiving from Jesus is not our doing but God’s gifting in Jesus.

As one who is baptized, your calling is to keep on returning to Jesus and receiving from Jesus what He is always giving; only then can you remain good, fruit-bearing soil. As you daily repent and continually receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus gives, you are really looking away from yourself and gazing on the crucified Christ and trusting in Him alone for your salvation. And should you grow weary and fainthearted and should you despair of enduring to the end, continue keeping your gaze upon the crucified Christ and even shout aloud: “I am baptized into Christ, and so I rest and abide in His great love for sinners. His love is far greater than my sins. Yes, it is true: I am so weak and helpless, but my dear Jesus is able to make me stand; my dear Jesus is able to make all grace abound to me, the chief of sinners; my dear Jesus shed His blood for me and in the baptismal waters He made me God’s own dear child and an heir of heaven; my dear Jesus will sustain [me] to the [very] end, [so that I stand] guiltless in the day [when He is revealed in His glory]” (1 Corinthians 1:8).    

In the midst of our struggles and sins, God gives us the grace to trust alone in Christ crucified, who completely reverses our sinful condition by bearing our sins and clothing us in His righteousness. Now, by God’s grace, we hear the Gospel and hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. Yes, abiding in Jesus, we are the Lord’s good soil; and by God’s grace, we will remain good soil until the day we die. We know that God [will indeed be] gracious and merciful to [us] for the sake of Christ and [will] grant [us] a blessed final hour (Jesus, Remember Me: Words of Assurance from Martin Luther; Luther’s Works, Vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians Chapters 5-6). Praise be to God!  Amen.