The Word of God for You
Saint Luke 8:4-15
In his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul says, “and take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” What we heard in the Epistle Reading for today, from the book of Hebrews, gives the same understanding, for it also pictures the Word of God as a blade—a sword “sharper than any two-edged sword,” it says, “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” With His Word, the Lord God has forged a sword that will kill. And it does. It has the power to defeat not only what the apostle refers to as “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”—the devil and his agents of perdition—but also the enemy of God that dwells within all of fallen humanity, which we understand as our sinful human nature.
This Old Adam, as Luther calls it, cannot be reformed or rehabilitated. It must be killed in you; it must be put to death by God Himself wielding the sharp sword of His Word. But God not only kills, He also makes alive, as He Himself says, and to which the prophets testify. He kills with His Word, and He brings to life with His Word. The Word of God is, therefore, not only a sword, but as our Lord Jesus tells us in today’s Holy Gospel, a seed—a seed that is sown, that germinates and brings forth life in great abundance.
The evangelist Saint Luke tells us, “And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him,” that is to Jesus, “he said in a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed.’” As all the people from this great crowd would know, Jesus is not talking about planting seeds in a home vegetable garden like you may have in your backyard, covered now by a blanket of snow, but a field in which the sower, to borrow from the hymn that we just sang, “scatters abroad the goodly seed,” in a way that, to those who are accustomed to placing each seed carefully, one by one in a row, might seem reckless. The seed is flung this way and that, on the good, fertile soil, as well as on places less hospitable—places like the packed down pathway, or ground that is full of rocks and stones, thorns and thistles. The sower’s concern is to get the job done—to get the seed planted so that the harvest will come.
Saint Luke says that this story of the sower and the seed is a parable. The story, therefore, has a heavenly meaning—a meaning that teaches about God and His kingdom of grace. But, as with all parables—indeed, as it is with everything that has to do with God and His holy kingdom—it’s only for those who have ears to hear it. That’s what Jesus says to the crowd when He’s done telling them the parable—“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And you know, I wouldn’t be surprised that, as the crowd disperses, there are those among the people nodding their heads in agreement with this last statement, as if they get the “deep wisdom” that Jesus imparts. Having ears to hear it, though, is not about being smart enough to figure it out or wise enough according to the wisdom of this world. It’s about having faith, for without faith, the underlying eternal truth of God will not make any sense at all.
University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson is a man very much in the news these days. He’s a bright fellow—very, very smart—but he’s not a believer. The wisdom that he sees—that he appropriates from God’s Word only goes so far for him. He’s able to perceive ethical and moral principles from Scripture, which he then applies to his views of how you should live your life in this world. And from a humanistic, first use of the Law sort of way, this is fine. I appreciate and like what he has to say. However, he misses out completely on the power of God’s Word to kill and to give life that has no end. He has no real conception of what God’s Word can do—the purpose for which God sends forth His Word to accomplish.
At the point in their lives with Jesus, when He tells His parable, the disciples themselves don’t really yet have the ears to hear what He’s saying in the parable. They don’t understand the heavenly, kingdom of God meaning of it. It’s not that they’re unbelievers like Professor Peterson, but that their faith is, shall we say, challenged by the worldly centeredness of their thinking. As Jesus would later say to the disciple Peter, “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” This is where Peter and the rest of the disciples are when they hear the parable. The things of God are having a hard time getting past the things of man in their thinking and understanding. But to their credit, by which I mean, thanks to the Holy Spirit working in them, they don’t just nod their heads, as I suggested some from the crowd might have done, pretending to get it; they ask their Master Jesus what it means.
He begins by telling them that, “The seed is the word of God,” implying with this that God is the one who sows the Word. Jesus then goes on to tell about all the different kinds of people who hear the Word of God and what the Word brings forth in them. He describes them in terms of four different kinds of soil in the field. Now, today’s sermon hymn says that of all the sower’s “scattered plenteousness,” only “one-fourth” of the seed sown “waves ripe on hill and flat, and bears a harvest hundredfold,” which suggests that only one-quarter of the field is made up of good soil, the other three-quarters being hard-packed, rocky, or thorn infested. Now, while I think that this is a bit of poetic license being taken by the hymn writer, in dividing up the field equally between the four types of soil, it does reflect the truth that of all those who hear the Word of God, relatively few will “hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
A great many will ‘out and out’ reject it. Like seed on hard-packed ground, the Word of God will not penetrate their hearts to grow and take root. Jesus says, “the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts,” like birds eating up the seed on the path, “so that they may not believe and be saved.” The saving Word of God is then nothing but foolishness to them, or at best, as it is with the professor, a word for this life only.
Others, Jesus says, are like the seed sown on rocky ground. At first, they “hear the word,” and “receive it with joy.” They have faith. But the rocks of false teaching and impure doctrine act as a barrier to keep them from being rooted in Jesus and from being fully nourished and fed by His Word and Sacraments. Therefore, when the scorching heat of life’s trials befalls them—“in a time of testing,” they “fall away,” Jesus says. They wither and die upon the rocks.
With the thorn-infested ground it’s a bit different, but the end is the same. There, the seed of God’s Word grows and takes root; faith lives—and maybe for quite some time—but it ends up getting chocked out and killed by the thorns, which Jesus says are “the cares and riches and pleasures of life.” They are believers who somewhere along the line seem to have less and less time for Jesus. Their work gets in the way; family activities get in the way; imagined slights against them get in the way; impenitence gets in the way, so that eventually everything is more important than Christ and their salvation. “Their fruit does not mature,” Jesus says.
In the end it will be the same for those on the rocks and those among the thorns as it is for the ones on the path. They will be the chaff on our Lord’s threshing floor come Judgment Day, and, as John the Baptist tells us, Jesus, with “his winnowing fork in his hand, will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
By the grace of God, you’re headed for our Lord’s barn, that is, for heaven and eternal life and not the fire of hell. But the day of the eternal harvest is not yet here, and until that day comes, the devil can still sow his rocks and thorns in the soil of your life of faith to kill and destroy what God has planted with His Word. It’s a good thing, therefore, that God is not a negligent and lazy gardener, but one who diligently tends His good soil in which His seed has taken root and grows. Like the swords and spears beaten into ploughshares and pruning hooks spoken of by Isaiah, our Lord Jesus takes the living and active, sharper than sharp sword of His Word and uses it to plough away the rocks of unbelief and prune out the thorns of sin in your life, which left untouched would surely bring you death. He, with the Helper, the Holy Spirit, brings you to true repentance and forgives you all your sins. And with all the killers of faith thus cleared away, “as far as the east is from the west”—fully and completely—your roots are able to hold fast and cling to Christ, who is your life and your salvation. Rooted deeply in Christ you will continue to grow and bear fruit with patience and yield the hundredfold harvest of heaven and eternal life.
Think on this, dear friends, as you hear our Lord Jesus say to you today, “Take eat … take drink, for the forgiveness of your sins.” This is your Saviour at work keeping you alive with His true Body given in death on Calvary’s cross and His true Blood shed for you. This is your Saviour Jesus, working to keep you in the salvation and eternal life that He “purchased and won” for you with His “innocent suffering and death.” He who Himself is the very Word of God, does this for you, and in Him “you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace,” forevermore. Amen.