To You It Is Given
St. Luke 8:4-15
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Luke 10:10 – And [Jesus] said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… When St. Luke wrote his Gospel, his intended recipient was a man by the name of Theophilus. Now, that’s an odd name. It is odd in that it is a very rare name, rarely if ever, found in any historical records outside of Luke’s writings. There is hardly anyone named Theophilus, especially anyone not connected to the Church. The name means “friend of God” or “one who loves God,” and for that reason, some have asserted that Luke’s recipient is not a specific person but any person who is a friend of God or who loves God. At any rate, Luke’s Gospel and the book of Acts – which is Luke part 2 – are written for the believer; Luke wrote them for you and me.
But to what end did Luke write to Theophilus? He writes this in Luke 1:3-4: “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” Theophilus was someone who had been instructed, catechized, and prepared for Holy Baptism in the ways of the ancient church. And Luke was writing to his catechized friend of God so that he would know for certain the reliability of the words by which he had been catechized.
It is the stated purpose in several places in Holy Scripture that the Word of God is given in order that faith would be created in an individual. At the end of John’s Gospel John writes, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) And this in I Timothy 2:3-4: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In essence, these are all the same thing. God wants all men to be saved; and to that end He sent His Son and gave His Word in order to redeem mankind and give them faith.
So, it may come as a bit of a shock to us that the confession to which we subscribe says this: “[Our churches] teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through means, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.” (Emphasis added. Augsburg Confession, Articles IV and V).
You and I believe because we have obtained faith in God where and when it pleased Him. It almost sounds as if God is in heaven, picking and choosing the times and places where it would be most fun for someone to come to faith – like a Mafia Don deciding whose lives to spare. And if something should happen to a person before that time and place that pleases God…whoops, oh well! Couple that with what we heard in today’s Gospel reading and we may begin to wonder if the God we believe in is, at best, mischievous or, at worst, sadistic.
In our text for today Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” It is enough to prompt the question, “What kind of a God wants all men to be saved, but then hides the truth of His kingdom in parables?” Then we may begin to wonder, “If I don’t understand the parable, does that mean the truth of His kingdom is hidden from me?”
It is enough to throw us into a spiral of doubt and loathing. We may begin to doubt the mercy and grace of God toward us and others. We may begin to hate God because we have come to think of His mercy and grace as simply a chance occurrence because it pleased Him at a particular moment completely unknown to us. All that we have come to believe is thrown into doubt. It is the age-old question of those who despise God. “If your God is really all-powerful and loving, why doesn’t He just save everybody?”
Well, the truth of the matter is that God has provided for the salvation of all people. Every last living person on this planet – everyone who has ever lived, and those yet to be conceived and born – have had their sins paid for by Christ’s all-atoning sacrifice on the cross. It pleased God to do that about 2000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem, a place called The Skull. And there is the answer to the where and when it pleases God. We hear it in the proclamation from John the Baptist: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Jesus didn’t only take away the sin of part of the world, as if doing it only for those He knew would believe in Him; He did it for the whole world. As St. John puts it in I John 2:2 “[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”
“Well then, if your God is really all-powerful and loving, why are some not saved?” Some are not saved simply and sadly because they refuse to receive God’s grace and mercy. They deny the all-saving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. They have closed their eyes and plugged their ears and yelled, “Nah, nah, nah…I can’t hear you.” About them Jesus said, “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matthew 13:13).
In summary, then, if someone is saved, it is because Jesus has saved them, even as He has provided for the salvation for all people. But if someone is not saved, it is because that person has damned themselves in their unbelief and sin; they have denied Jesus’ work for them; they have denied the saving truth; they have no faith. Jesus Christ is the propitiation for all sins. St. Paul wrote, “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness…” (Romans 3:22b-25a)
All have sinned; we have all inherited the original sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. How are we saved, then? There it is clearly in the Scriptures: Through faith. And how does saving faith come? St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it (faith) is a gift of God; not of works so that no man can boast.”
Why will some people be in hell, then? They will be there because they refused to believe that Jesus bought and paid for their forgiveness. Hence the parable that Jesus told about the sower… As the sower scatters seed in his field, some falls on the wayside, some falls on rocks, some falls among the thorns, and yet some falls in good soil. For one reason or another, the wayside, the rocks, and the thorny soils all represent people who, to some degree or another, end up not believing the Word of God.
The seed is cast to them; they have the Gospel of Christ’s free forgiveness preached to them. They hear about the wonderful deeds of God in Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice. Yet, for one reason or another, the Word doesn’t take root. The problem is not the seed; the problem is not the Word. The problem is in the person, the soil.
So, while there are four soil types mentioned, there really are only two types of people represented: believers and, ultimately, unbelievers. That is what Jesus tells the disciples when they press Him for a meaning to the parable. Type 1: to you it has been given to know the mysteries of God. Type 2: to the rest, it is given in parables so that they do not understand the mysteries of God. Type 1 is the good soil in which the seed, that is the Word of God, takes root. Type 2 is the rest, who may believe for a while, if at all, but ultimately refuse to believe the Word of God.
For the first type, everything is already done. You hear it in the words Jesus used: “To you it has been given…” Here it is for you and here it is given to you. You’ve done nothing, either in deserving the gift or in obtaining it. It is freely given to you and placed in you. It has taken root in you and caused you to believe and trust in Jesus for forgiveness, life, and salvation. If you do anything at all, it would be to reject the gift, to deny the faith, and to refuse the gift that Jesus has won for you.
If someone is saved, it is all God’s doing. If someone is damned, it is all their own doing. And contrary to what it might seem, our understanding of the Word of God does not impact our salvation. As mentioned earlier, we may be tempted to ask that if the truth of God’s kingdom is hidden from us it is because we don’t understand a parable. “To you it is given,” Jesus told the disciples who asked Him to explain this parable. They didn’t get it, neither did they understand it, but that didn’t disqualify them from being Jesus’ disciples.
The same can be said of us. Whether we understand the parables or not, if we are those to whom faith has been given and received as a free gift, salvation is ours! What is guaranteed of the other soil types is that they will see and hear parables and the Word of God, but not understand it. If they ever do come to an understanding of the Word of God, that is entirely God’s doing in Jesus Christ, and they are welcomed into the fold of Christ’s sheep.
St. Luke was a very thorough evangelist. He researched the events of Jesus’ life in order to write an orderly account not only for his friend, the most excellent Theophilus, but also for us. You, dear fellow redeemed, can be absolutely certain that what you have been taught from the Word of God is true because it is the Word of God, and also, in Luke’s case, because he verifies the accounts historically. These things really happened. Jesus really said and did what He said and did. Jesus really gave His life as your ransom and the ransom of for mankind.
Therefore also you, dear fellow redeemed, are indeed saved; God did that. And He continues to deliver the benefits of that saving work of Christ in and through your Baptism, the preaching of His Gospel, the deliverance of forgiveness in His Absolution, and in His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Don’t deny those gifts; continue to receive them for your eternal good.
To you it is truly given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. You and I have been given faith to believe this, and so we are truly forgiven for all of our sins. Come, now, and receive this forgiveness again in Christ’s Holy Supper, His very body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.