Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
July 13, 2008
Text: Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23

Jesus is careless when it comes to sowing His seed. The seed is His Word, and He sows it haphazardly, without regard to the quality of the soil. He even sows upon the path, and upon the rocky ground, and among the thorns, which is to say, He sows His Word in hearts that He knows will not receive it, or may receive it immediately with joy, but eventually reject it. And this is just another splendid example of Jesus’ mercy and His love. In His mercy and love, He is generous with the seed of His Word, generous to a fault! He does not desire the death of a sinner, but that the sinner turn from his evil ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11). He desires repentance and faith. And these only come about by the Word. So Jesus sows, generously, recklessly, not just on the good soil, but on all the soil, trusting the promise of His Father, “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” (Is. 55:10-11; ESV). Jesus knows that the seed of the Word will always produce a crop, will always do what God intends, for it is living and active. The Word of God is never empty or meaningless, even if it appears to be so to our fallen eyes. The Word is performative. It always does what it says. And this same Word of God is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Through the Word the Holy Spirit conquers hearts. Through the Word the Holy Spirit admonishes, converts, strengthens, preserves His people in the faith. Through the Word the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. So the Church of the Augsburg Confession has always confessed on the basis of the Scriptures that through His holy Word, and the visible manifestations of that Word, the Sacraments, God “gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.”[1]

That is why Jesus is so reckless in His sowing. The Word brings the Holy Spirit, who works faith. Notice, this doesn’t mean that everyone who hears the Word comes to faith. The Holy Spirit works faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. And ultimately, we can’t answer that question that has dogged Christians for centuries, “Why do some believe, and others not? Why are some saved, and others not?” All we can say is what the Scriptures say, that if you come to faith, God gets all the credit, all the glory, because this is the Holy Spirit working through the Word. But if you do not come to faith, or if you lose your faith and find yourself in hell in the end, this is your own fault. The Scriptures nowhere state that God eternally predestines some to hell. He only predestines to heaven, and this on account of Christ. It’s not His fault when some are damned. He does not desire their eternal death, but that they repent, turn from their evil ways and live. Nor is there anything in any man, woman, or child that makes that person worthy of faith and salvation, and certainly not more worthy of salvation than their lost neighbor. No one, in and of themselves, is good soil. It is by God’s pure grace, and in His unsearchable wisdom, that He calls you to faith by His Holy Spirit, that the seed of His Word takes root in you and grows and brings forth much fruit. And this is cause for you to give thanks and rejoice and bask in the pure mercy of God.

So how is man at fault if he is lost? The soils in the parable are the hearts of men. The seed that falls upon the path is immediately devoured by birds. When the seed of the Word falls upon the hearts of men who do not understand, do not perceive the powerful Word that Jesus has sown so generously, the evil one, the enemy, the devil, comes along and snatches away what has been sown in the heart (Matt. 13:4, 19). These are people who immediately dismiss the Word of God, reject it, have no room even to consider Jesus. Their hearts and minds and ears are closed. So Satan makes quick work of snatching the Word away so that the heart can continue in unbelief.

Jesus also sows on the rocky ground. This is a different type of soil. Here the Word is sown and the seed immediately germinates. A plant springs to life. But there is no room for a root system. When the sun rises, it scorches the plant, so that it withers away into nothing (vv. 5-6, 20-21). These are people who hear the Word with great joy in the beginning. They are among the most zealous for the faith at first. But Christianity is just a novelty for them, soon to be cast aside. They are enthusiastic in the beginning, but they have no root. Perhaps they have a real faith in the beginning, but that faith is not nourished by the Word and the sacraments, and so it is very weak. Or perhaps they ultimately trust in themselves and not in Jesus Christ. Perhaps they have put their faith, not in Jesus, but in their faith. Faith in faith is no faith at all, because then faith becomes a work on our part. Such faith does not stand the test of time and trial. When tribulation or persecution come on account of the Word, when it’s no longer easy or fun to follow Jesus, when Jesus demands that His disciple take up his cross and follow all the way to Golgotha, such faith withers and dies.

Likewise, Jesus sows among the thorns. The thorns are the worries, the cares, the stuff of this world. The thorns are the temporary things that people so often treat as eternal (vv. 7, 22). These things may even be good gifts of God, but how easily they become idols, be they money, job, food, sex, alcohol, even friends and family members, spouses and children. Such people may hear the Word, even come to church, but the thorns choke the Word, and destroy faith. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches can be deadly to faith, because things so easily become our gods. Human nature is so easily led astray to worship the creature rather than the Creator, the gift rather than the Giver. Lord, spare us from this.

Finally, though, Jesus does sow much seed on the good ground. The Word falls upon such soil and grows up into a strong plant, producing grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. These are those who hear and understand and believe the Word of God, and produce much fruit (vv. 8, 23). They not only come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, they produce the works of sanctification. They love and serve their neighbor. They give all glory to God. They confess Christ to the world, never taking into account the personal cost of being Jesus’ disciples. They are shining examples to the rest of us. Their results may vary. Some produce fruit a hundredfold, some only sixty or thirty, but they all produce. Oh, how blessed they are, for this comes about by the Holy Spirit working faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. The miracle of faith has been performed. This is the Lord’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes.

It is always the temptation for us in the Church, though, to read this parable and immediately say within ourselves, “Aha, I’m the good soil! The seed of the Word has been cast, and found a good, rich, fertilized soil in my heart.” The hard truth is, though, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that at any time in our lives, you and I are each one of the soils. For is it not true that often the Word has been preached to you, but your ears and mind and heart have been closed? Maybe it’s because you don’t like the pastor, or you’re mad at your fellow church members, or you just don’t like the message. Repent. And isn’t it true that you’ve often heard the Word with great joy, but then some particular temptation or trial has led you to forsake that Word and the Sower, Jesus, because it’s just too hard to be His disciple? You don’t want to take up your cross and follow Him. He demands too much. Repent. And isn’t it true that the things in this life have become your idols; that you’ve feared, loved, and trusted in other things more than you fear, love, and trust in God; that the worries and cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches has choked the Word and made your heart unfruitful? Repent.

God alone makes good soil. He does this, ironically, by casting the seed of the Word on it, so the Holy Spirit can have His way with your heart. Jesus tills the soil, pulls up the weeds and the rocks and the thorns, plants the seed of His Word, waters it, fertilizes it, tends it. After all, what else is the confession of sins, both at the beginning of the Divine Service, and in private confession and absolution, but the offering up of our weeds and rocks and thorns for Jesus to pull out? And what is the absolution, the forgiveness of sins, but Jesus taking our weeds, our rocks, our thorns, our very sins away? The Law of God shows us that the soil of our hearts is not good. It is rocky and thorny and the evil one steals away the seed. But the Gospel gives us the death of our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy, precious blood to wash away all our sins. In the Gospel God makes good soil out of us. So don’t be arrogant, thinking you are the good soil and all those other people are the bad soils. Instead, trust that God will make good soil out of you, that He will take your heart of stone and give you a believing, beating heart of flesh, sanctified by the Spirit, that you may produce fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. For He has forgiven you all your sins in Christ Jesus, including your closed ears, mind, and heart; your aversion to the cross and tribulation; and your idolizing of the things of this world. All these things have been wiped out in Christ. And so as God says through the Prophet Isaiah this morning, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Is. 55:13).

In the midst of thorns and thistles and rocks and briers and all manner of weeds, God has planted His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word made flesh, who was planted as a seed in the womb of the virgin Mary, who grew up before the Lord as a tender shoot out of the stump of Jesse, to be nailed to the tree of the cross for the sins of the whole world. That includes your sins, and mine. Yet in His death He has yielded up fruit that cannot be quantified, not just thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold, but infinite. And He showers His bounty upon us. Just as He generously scatters the seed of His Word, so our crucified and risen Lord Jesus generously showers His gifts upon us. He even sets a Table before us this morning, bread and wine that are, in fact, His body and His blood, the Word made flesh offering again His Word attached to a tangible sign, the living promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation for all who believe it. In the Word and in the Supper He’s tending the soil, brothers and sisters. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. He who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, let him come, eat, and drink, and receive the righteousness of Christ. The Word will not return empty. It will accomplish all for which God sent it. That is the promise and the reality in Christ. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] AC V (Tappert, p. 31).

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