[Isaiah 55:10-11] “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,” says the Lord.
God’s Word Will Accomplish God’s Will
God works through what we call paradoxes. God’s strength is found in weakness – a man dying on a cross. Man’s wisdom is called foolishness by God. God’s foolishness is said to be wiser than men [1 Corinthians 1:18-25]. And God carries His work of salvation to mankind by means of a message that man most naturally rejects – the foolishness of the Gospel [1 Corinthians 2:14]. Yet, man is reached and there is a great harvest.
Our Lord Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading [Luke 8:4-15], describes His work of sowing (planting) God’s Word for salvation. God’s Word, when planted, grows faith in Christ – faith which receives the forgiveness of sins from God – and plants a new man in the hearer who loves God and bears fruit for His neighbor.
Yet, the planting of this Word of God, as described by our Lord in His parable, is, by all appearances, an exercise in failure. It doesn’t work; and then it doesn’t work; and then it doesn’t work again.
“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.” “The seed is the Word of God” – the Bible, Scripture, preached to ears. It falls along the path and birds eat it up. It never even gets to take root.
“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.” This is the bulk of mankind. They might even say they’ve never heard God’s Word, but likely they have – yet their hearts are hard, like a walking-path – the Word never penetrates the surface – and, because of their own hardness, the devil can easily snatch up what is planted.
This is the bulk of mankind. And this is you on Sundays when you attend service, and then, when you leave, if someone asks, “What was service about today?”, you respond, “I have no idea.”
You’re capable of hearing, but your heart remains hard on Sunday morning. The Word bounces off closed ears that you’re not making an effort to open when you arrive. This is no small thing. It is the devil who snatches up the Word preached to you.
Repent. Hearing is easy, but listening to God’s Word takes effort. Make an effort. And come to Church examining yourself ahead of time, come repenting of sin, so that your heart is softened, opened, to receive what is preached.
It’s not God’s Word that doesn’t work. Man’s hardness of heart and unwillingness to receive and know God’s Word, that’s the problem. Man’s blindness which can’t even see it. Yet, in the parable, God’s Word appears to fail once again even in those who do receive it.
“And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.” Some is planted, grows for a time, but then withers away – faith in Christ is sprouted but doesn’t remain with the man or women to the end of their life. “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.”
In some this happens quickly. Others have faith their whole lives, but, as it turns out, it’s always been this shallow faith. Suddenly things get tough and the life-long believer believes no more – or their faith becomes an empty kernel.
Grain or grass only do well in cultivated ground. You need to be cultivated by God’s Word, broken up thoroughly, worked over, softened, and filled with fertilizing nutrients – knowledge of God’s Word, a deepening knowledge of your faith. Not a shallow faith.
Faith, trust in Christ – trust in God’s goodness and promises – this trust must be exercised in hardships. Those who don’t employ their trust in God’s promises for the smaller hardships will not be rooted deeply enough to endure the more serious hardships which are sure to come.
Yet, it’s not God’s Word that has failed. It is your failure to do those things which would cultivate and deepen the roots of your faith. It’s our laziness – Or, it’s our quickness to apply the world’s answers to our quandaries while giving no serious consideration to what God says.
And, yet, a third time in our Lord’s parable, the planting of God’s Word appears to be a futile effort. And I will say, brothers and sisters, without hesitation, yet also not desiring to cause offense – but I’ll say this because I care about you – this third part of the parable we’re about to look at is you. This is where many of you – and myself – come in most of all.
Jesus doesn’t tell this parable to nobody; He tells it to us and for a reason. He tells it to spare us by warning us into repentance. Here is the third part: “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.”
Who are these? “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.”
Even at an old age, faith is sometimes left immature. You’ve matured, but your faith hasn’t matured with you. You’re still more concerned about the pleasures of this life – where your next vacation will be – than you are about being fruitful for God’s Kingdom.
And you have less time left. If you won’t make growth in the knowledge of God and growth in the keeping of His Word and Commands your priority now, when will you?
Jesus doesn’t end this parable by saying “Nevertheless, it’s all okay.” “You’re all fine.” Instead, those who remain stuck in these first three parts of the parable don’t become part of the Lord’s harvest in the fourth. He has remained at your side all these years – patiently waiting for and urging your repentance and your trust.
“Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” [Romans 2:4]
Brothers and sisters, God’s desire and will for each one of you is that you be in the fourth part of His parable. There is nothing God won’t forgive. There is nothing He won’t give you a new start from. In fact, He has already forgiven you in the blood of His Son Jesus Christ who has died, withered, been snatched up, and suffered divine punishment in your place.
You are freely forgiven for the sake – alone – of what Jesus has done. God’s forgiveness of your sin, His goodness to you – you receiving that forgiveness – is what softens the heart to receive His effective Word again and again, more and more, to more and more effect – His work. His work on you.
What is God’s will for each one you? God is not willing that any of you would be snatched up, withered, or choked by cares. He is patient with you still. He works on you still, even today, in this preaching and in this Supper.
God loves each of you. What is God’s will? That you be found in this fourth part of our Lord’s parable: “And some fell into good soil – plowed and fed soil, soil made good for growing – and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” “These are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart – a true heart that knows my soul’s condition, doesn’t lie about it, yet also knows my Savior’s voice and trusts what He has done – and bear fruit with patience.”
Like a farmer, God makes the soil good for planting and plants His Word in it. You are His field. He is not failing. He plants through one minister, He waters through another, He harvests through yet another. His Word does it and has been doing it all along.
Though the harvest seems meager – around me – and especially in me – I will trust His effective Word which does not return to Him empty but, as promised, accomplishes the purpose for which He has sent it and does produce an abundant harvest in the end. Amen.