Sexagesima–Sunday, February 20, 2022
Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You that through Your Son Jesus Christ You have sown Your holy Word among us: We pray that You will prepare our hearts by Your Holy Spirit, that we may diligently and reverently hear Your Word, keep it in good hearts, and bring forth fruit with patience; and that we may not incline to sin, but subdue it by Your power, and in all persecutions comfort ourselves with Your grace and continual help; through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
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. (ESV)
There seems to be a contradiction between today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings. In Isaiah, God proclaims: [My Word] 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. But then, in the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, the Word fails three times and in three different instances. What is going on here?
The Seed is the Word of God. From Genesis to Revelation, the primary message of this Word is the Gospel of salvation in Jesus. This Gospel is full of power. Remember how St. Paul confessed in Romans: I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (1:16). And our Lord Jesus Himself affirmed the Word’s power by saying Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31). And then there is the verse from 1 Peter, which was adopted as the slogan of the Lutheran Reformation and which adorns our church sign: the word of the Lord remains forever (1:25).
The Gospel—the Good News of God saving sinners from their sins and hell and making them righteous and heirs of heaven through Jesus’ death and resurrection—this Gospel is the power of God and will remain forever! This Gospel is daily succeeding in the purpose for which God sent it. The Gospel is daily saving sinners. And yet, in many hearts, the Gospel fails to take root and bear fruit. Oh, the Gospel truly is God’s power for salvation! But the Gospel also is reject-able. You see, God will not allow the Gospel’s power to be other than a gift. And gifts can be returned, forgotten, and even despised.
God does not strap you to a chair and force-feed you with His Gospel. The Gospel is a gift that can be returned to sender. This happens by inattentive listening. People can sit in church daydreaming, letting the Word float in one ear and out the other. People can hear the Word without treasuring the Word. What is really going on here is that Satan is snatching away the Word before it can do what it has the power to do, that is, bear fruit.
The Gospel is a gift that can be opened and rejoiced in, but then forgotten.
It is possible to have only a good-time faith, that initially hears and rejoices, believes and thanks God. But when the bad-times come along—and they always do—some people let go of the Word and their faith withers and dies.
The Gospel is a gift that can even be despised. People who listen to the Word can still lose it, and so their faith, if they let God’s Word get crowded out of their lives. Crowded out by life’s cares, riches, pleasures. “I’ll have to skip reading my Bible today, I don’t have time to go to church this Sunday because…”—well, what are your excuses? Seldom are they good excuses. Rather, our excuses tend to be a crowding out of the Word by our cares, riches, and pleasures. And what do our excuses have in common? This: the choking of the Word of God, squeezing it into an ever smaller place in our lives until at last we don’t hear it at all.
The Gospel is God’s power for our salvation. Nonetheless, the Gospel is also reject-able. The Gospel can be returned, forgotten, despised. You see, God wraps up His Gospel as a gift. Such is the way God chooses to bring us our salvation in Jesus: a Word that shares the weakness of the cross: a reject-able, even a despise-able Word! For this Word IS the Word of the Cross—of the Man who loved us to death and through death unto resurrection!
Who is this Man who loved us to and through death unto eternal life? He is Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. He is the Jesus who has seed to sow, a Word to plant, a message of forgiveness to be heard. He is the Jesus who suffers Himself in His Word to be rejected, for what He is giving here is not forced upon sinners but comes as gift alone. He is the Jesus whose forgiving Gospel Word is assailed directly by Satan lest it be believed! He is the Jesus whose forgiving Gospel Word can be returned, forgotten, and despised by hard-hearted sinners, distracted by this world’s cares and pleasures. He is the Jesus who is the enemy of Satan, flesh, and world, and whose only weapon is the weakness of His Word of forgiveness. But the seed that Jesus sows—that weak, reject-able, despise-able Word of forgiveness— when it is heard and believed, that Seed, that Word brings forth the fruit of God’s indestructible life inside us!
And what is this Word? It is the “I love you and you will be Mine forever” that the Lord shouts over you at the baptismal font! It is the “I gave Myself for you” that He whispers to you with the gift of His own Body and Blood! It is the “I forgive you” that He never tires of speaking to you in the Holy Absolution. It is the Gospel that is preached and distributed every Lord’s Day. This is the Word that Jesus exhorts us to use our ears to hear, for only this Gospel Word can cleanse our hearts by faith and make them honest and good, so that we bear fruit with patience.
Soon, on Ash Wednesday, we will acknowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Because of Adam and Eve’s fall, the soil of which we are made and to which we shall return is tainted. It is not what it was first created to be. All ground and all who have come from it are cursed by sin (Genesis 3:17-19). There is no intrinsically “good soil” here on earth, and therefore there are no honest and good fruit-bearing hearts that have naturally come from the ground. We are all equally soiled by sin. The soiled hearts of all who have come from this cursed ground are equally dead in trespasses (Romans 5:12) and are unable to do anything to lift the curse or remove our soiled sinful condition. We all are lifeless and are unable to bring forth life.
Our temptation in listening to the Parable of the Sower is to focus on the soil, which is the human heart. Our temptation is to ask, “What kind of soil am I?”But don’t do that. Because if you examine your heart truthfully, you will not like what you see. By nature, your heart is ugly with hate, full of rock-hard resistance toward God and His ways, full of shallow commitment to God’s Word, full of anxious thoughts and also lust for worldly pleasures, that are like thorns and thistles that choke out faith. And so repent. Don’t focus on the soils. Instead, focus on the Seed. For the Seed is the Word of God. Focus on the Amazing Seed. For it is the Seed, the Gospel Word of forgiveness in Jesus, that produces fruit in and through us. Jesus causes the fruits of His truth and life to grow in and through us. Jesus does it all. God’s Word does it all. The Seed of faith, truth, and life does it all for and in us.
The seed of God’s Word does not look for good soil to fall into; it creates the soil for itself, no matter how rocky or how weed-infested your heart may be. Jesus does not look for the right kind of people to believe. He does not scout out the best planting ground for His word. He simply sows, and His Word has its way with you. His Word—that Word of grace and absolution—transforms you, O sinner, into good ground. It is just as if a farmer sowed his seed on a shopping mall parking lot one evening. By the time the sun rose, that concrete was rich soil. All that gray, lifeless stone was coloured with blooms. A parking lot transformed into a field of salvation—that is what the Lord Jesus does to you and for you. He transforms your parking lot heart into a place for parking His Word, His Spirit, His body and blood, His divine life.
For the seed of His Word is packed with the flesh and blood of the Son, the Son dead and risen for you. The seed of the Gospel Word is packed with the life of the One who once was packed with your sin and death; packed with the bloody love of the One who chose to endure sacrifice rather than endure eternity without you. Yes, Jesus chose to be devoured by the demons, strangled by the weeds of twisted human justice, buried in the earth, all so that He might have and keep you as His own.
Humble yourself, therefore, under the nail-pierced hand of God, the hand that worked everything out for you. God sowed, you received. God changed your rock into soil; you received. God gave growth to His seed; you received. God keeps you in the faith, grants you daily forgiveness, and guarantees you heaven, and you—that’s right—you receive.
So rather than trusting in anything that we do, let us rest secure in the defense that God provides against all our foes. Be they the satanic fowl that seek to gobble up the Word; be they the thorns of cares, riches, and the pleasures of life; be they the burning sun of temptations; be what they may, come when they will, none of them will uproot the seed within you. That Gospel seed is defended by the Sower, Jesus, who never leaves His plant, who never forsakes you but for your sake plants Himself in you.
The sower went out to sow His seed. He sowed it in you, and when the harvest comes, He will find in you a crop, a hundredfold, ripened unto eternal life. Thanks be to God!