In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Luke 8:11: [Jesus said] “Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God…”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… For many people, gardening is a very fulfilling and enjoyable pastime. There is something very therapeutic about digging your fingers into the soil, planting a seed or bulb, and then watching as it grows into a flower or shrub or vegetable plant. When you think about it, there really isn’t that much work involved in growing a plant. You work up the soil, put in the seed, keep it weeded and watered, and a plant grows – that is, if you’ve done it right.
It’s really kind of miraculous if you think about it. A dormant bulb or seemingly dried up little seed is put into the ground and becomes a plant. The power of life is not in the environment in which it is planted; the power of life is in the seed or bulb itself. And yet how and where the seed is planted can make the difference between the success of the plant and its failure to grow.
If you have ever planted bulbs around your house you know that you must put them in the ground at just the right depth. A little too deep and they will rot in the ground. If that happens, it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the bulbs, just something wrong with the way they had been planted. You need to make sure you plant the things the right way. Only when they are planted correctly in the right soil will they do well.
Farmers know this all too well. They have cultivating, planting, and harvesting down to a science. Our parable today deals with a farmer who is out planting a field. He tosses out his seed upon the ground so that it may sprout, grow and produce a crop. But not all of the seed gets into the right kind of soil. Some of it falls on the hard wayside where it is quickly eaten up by birds. Some of it falls into rocky ground where the roots don’t take hold as they should. Some of it falls into thistly areas where it is choked out by the weeds. And some of it falls into the right kind of ground and does just fine.
Now this parable is not about the sower; it is about the seed. So let’s not blame the sower for where the seed falls, that’s not the point. The point is that the seed only grows well when the environment it is put into does not reject it in some way.
Our Lord tells His disciples the meaning of the parable: “The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Not the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” Should we draw from this that you have to have a good heart in order for God to work faith in you right? Absolutely not. Should we teach from this that you should work hard to be “good soil”? No, we shall leave that for others to preach. This is not a teaching about how a person must work with God to be saved. Remember what I said about seeds: the power to bring life is within them, not within the soil. And they will grow if the soil does not reject them in some way.
It is the same way with the Word of God. The power of life and of faith is found not within the person who receives it; the power is in the Word. The Word of Christ will do the work of converting, sanctifying, and saving all on its own if people will simply receive it and stop actively rejecting it.
The point of the parable is not that we must be good already to be saved; anyone who teaches or preaches that is a false prophet. The point of the parable is that there are plenty of ways that people reject God’s Word and snuff out the faith and life it gives to them.
For some the devil, the world, and their own flesh have so hardened their hearts that the seed of God’s Word is never even allowed to enter there. This is what Jesus means when He says “the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts lest they should believe and be saved”.
For some the Word is received joyfully at first, but then when hard teachings are encountered, or when the cross is felt in life, faith withers and is abandoned. Human reason and human flesh will not put up with such things for very long. These, our Lord says, “have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.”
Others allow the cares and worries of this life to so dominate their time and thoughts that they make no time for Christ and give little thought to their faith. Separated from the life-giving and sustaining power of our Lord’s Gospel, faith is eventually choked out and dies, and these fade back into the world’s way of life and unbelief.
The point of this parable is to warn us against the dangers to our faith that the devil, our flesh, and this world present to us, so that we will not reject the Word of Christ, but that He might find in us receptive hearts.
But I must reiterate that the power of salvation is found not in the human heart, but in the Word of God. Listen again to the Lord’s word through Isaiah: “…as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” The Word of God is powerful and always has an effect when it encounters a person. And it is more powerful than a seed, for sometimes seeds fail. But the Word of the Lord never fails to do something. It always has an impact.
The question is not whether the Word works as God intends. The question is this: what work will it do in you?
God’s good and gracious will is that you receive His Word and be saved. God’s good and gracious will is that you believe in His Son, Jesus, who has taken all your sins to Himself, suffered heinously for them, was crucified, died and was buried for them – all in your place and for you in order to save your sorry soul from an eternity suffering in hell separated from God.
But obviously there are multitudes who hear the Word and do not believe. Does that mean the Word is not working? Not at all. Christ is in the Word with His Spirit calling people to faith and salvation. But those who hear the Word and do not believe reject His calling; they reject the faith, thereby they reject Christ and His free gift of forgiveness and salvation. But the Word still has an effect. The question is not really whether the Word is working and powerful, but where do you stand in relation to it? Will you passively receive it and allow God to do His gracious work in you, or will you actively reject it and refuse His gift?
When Jesus was arguing with the Pharisees He warned them: “if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” (John 12:47)
Did you catch that? We will be judged on the basis of where we stand in relation to Christ’s Word. If we believe it, we are saved. If we reject it, we are damned. It is a frightening thing to reject God’s Word. And yet that damnation is not what God desires. For our Jesus says in the very next sentence: “I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life…” (John 12:47-48) God wants to save people; He has saved mankind from his sins. It is the people who do not want this gift and therefore damn themselves and reject this wondrous gift.
While the warning is clear in this parable, the Gospel is just as clear, for it does not end with the seeds that for whatever reason did not grow into a fruit-producing crop; it ends with the seeds that did. These are the ones that were received in soil that did not reject them. And when we receive the Word of Christ we are given faith and life, and we begin to produce the fruits of faith in our lives.
God’s holy desire for you is that you do not reject His Word and His Gospel. His holy desire for you is that you hear His Word, receive His gifts, and live a life that is forgiven in Jesus. This is why He sent His Son, who is called the Word, into our flesh, and why He sent Him to the cross to die for your sins. He has saved you from your sins and from His wrath. He desires that you live a life of joy and peace, as He says in Isaiah. And He promises that so long as you cling to His Gospel, that is, cling by faith to Christ, you will never be cut off, for His Gospel will never be cut off.
And today that Gospel is presented to you again. Today you are encountering the Word. And in this Word the Spirit of God is at work to produce an abundance of faith in you. Do not harden yourself against it. Do not let temptations or doubts get in the way. Put aside the cares of this world, and lay hold of this Word, for in it is life and salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.