Text: Luke 8:4-15
There was a something in my sermon last week that I’d like to visit again today in light of our text. Last week I said that the parable of the vineyard shows us that God’s grace is shown equally to all sinners. This means that no one is more sanctified than anyone else. Rather, all sinners receive the same grace of God in Jesus Christ – the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life that are given through faith. You will receive the same grace whether you were baptized as a baby, or you are convicted by God’s Law and receive His Word in faith on your deathbed. If this is the case, that God is so extravagant in showing mercy, why is it that out of 7 billion people in the world, only 2 billion are Christians?
Or, maybe the more traditional way of asking the question will make more sense; Why are some saved and not others? This question could take us into some heady realms, where theologians and pastors argue past each other, or we could keep our heads down here where Jesus is in the parable. To put it bluntly, Jesus’ ministry was met with two responses. The overwhelmingly popular one was rejection. Jesus indicates in our text that to His disciples, and to the others who received Him in faith, it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. But to the crowds, who pressed in on Jesus from every side, seeking not forgiveness but food for their bellies, it has not been given. That is why Jesus spoke in parables, so that the words of the Holy Spirit through Isaiah are fulfilled, “Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
Jesus teaches through the parable why some are saved and others not. There are two reactions to God’s Word: rejection or faith. Many hear the Word, but it goes in one ear and out the other. Others receive the Word with joy, but when times of persecution come, or the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, they fall away. But, all is not lost. For, by the grace of God there is another group: those who receive the Word in faith, and hold it fast in their hearts with patience. Though the broadly-cast Word of God is met by many with rejection, in those whom it takes root, it bears fruit – even a hundredfold.
Since this is the second week in a row that our text one of the parables, it’s important to get something out there. Not everything in a parable is filled with meaning. In allegories, another type of story, different elements can all have different levels of meanings. A parable is different. There is usually one central point, and everything else given is to support that one point. It’s kind of like spokes in a wheel, but instead of going out from the center, they go into the center. In the parable of the sower the central idea is that the seed is sown generously and bears much fruit when it takes root. Jesus says the seed is the Word of God. The sower is Jesus. Now having said that, let us hear the parable.
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. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.
In the parable Jesus compares Himself to a sower, who goes out to sow His seed. This parable is first about Jesus and His ministry, but then it is also about how He continues to sow His Word among us today. He does this through those who follow in His stead: His disciples, the Apostles, pastors, teachers, missionaries, and all others who teach and spread His saving Word. The sower in the parable scatters the seed just about everywhere. Some fell along the path, some on the rocky soil, some fell among the thorns; but some fell into good soil. This teaches us about the spread of God’s Word.
When Jesus came to preach the Gospel, He didn’t come to share it with just a few people. Rather, He directed that all nations be baptized and taught. The Good News is not just for some, but for all. The scattering of the seed all over, even in places where it wouldn’t have been sown otherwise, is like how Jesus sends us out to the byways and alleys, to sinners and tax collectors, to those who dwell in the shadow and darkness of death, to share with them the light of His Gospel. His will is that all be saved through the preaching of His Word, and through it be brought to repentance and faith.
Therefore, God broadcasts His Word throughout all the world, and will continue to do so until time has reached its fulfilment. But, now we get to the hard question: why aren’t all people saved? We learn in the Catechism that the temptation to sin comes from three places: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Luther gets that partially from this text. Jesus contrasts the two types of hearers in the parable: those who reject the Word and those who keep it in an honest and good heart with patience. These are represented by the different types of soil.
Some of the seed fell along the path and was devoured by the birds. Jesus interprets this for us, “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.” Notice that devil isn’t too concerned about people hearing the Word of God, but it’s their hearts that he battles for. It is with the heart that we believe and are saved. The seed that falls along the path represents those who hear the Word preached, but it goes in one ear and out the other.
These are not just the open unbelievers, unfortunately, but even some who go to church. There are some who come to worship, not to receive forgiveness and the gifts of our Lord’s body and blood, but purely out of habit or custom. And when the sermon comes, they check out, and the words are lost. There is no repentance, there is no progression in the faith, for the devil comes and steals the Word before it takes root.
Others are like the seed that falls on rocky soil. These are the ones who hear God’s Word and initially receive it with joy. But, as we learned from the Transfiguration, there is no glory without the cross. The Christian will be faced with persecution for the sake of Christ’s name. And many, when faced with the hatred of the world, fall away. They might not be openly divorced from the Word, but they dilute it just enough fit in and siphon off the world’s ire. And still, there are others who receive the Word, but then the cares and pleasures of life come. This was St. Paul’s point last week, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” For many, the Church is not seen as the place where forgiveness and grace are, but as an inhibitor of life’s pleasures. And for that reason, many depart from God’s Word and surround themselves with teachers who will tell them what they do want to hear.
This is all painting a pretty grim picture, but it confirms what we see in the world around us. Many people reject Christ and His Word – most even. That’s because God’s Word always produces one of two reactions: rejection, or faith. Faith is the reaction that God desires and creates. It’s why He casts the seed all over, so that as many as possible can hear the Word. In the parable, some of the seed does fall into good soil. It takes root and grows, yielding even a hundredfold. The interpretation that Jesus provides is that these are the ones who hear the Word and keep it. Though faced with many a persecution, the cares and pleasures of the flesh, they hold the Word and bear fruit in patience.
Though so many hear the Word and fall away, all is not lost. The fault is not with the seed. God says of His Word, “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…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth.” Neither is the difference in the soil, for the Scriptures clearly testify that all are equally conceived dead in iniquity.
The difference is that some, according to God’s will, receive the Word in faith. They are forgiven their sins through the washing of Holy Baptism and in the words of Absolution spoken from the altar. They are fed and strengthened in the faith with the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, and are led to take up their crosses and follow. They weather the persecutions and hatred of the world, and they refuse to be ruled by the pleasures of the flesh. These are the ones who bear fruit with patience. We are the ones who bear fruit with patience. Soon, the seed of Christ’s cross will bear fruit that is one hundred-fold, the eternal triumph over the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh in the resurrection to eternal life.
Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” May He ever grant us those ears by His Holy Spirit, so that hearing the Word, we receive it in faith, casting off the hatred of the world and the pleasures of the flesh, and according to His will, abide until the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.