Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity September 26, 1999
5, 290, 294, 49
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And when a great multitude had gathered, and others had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things, He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” These are the words.
In Christ Jesus, Whose Gospel never fails to bear fruit in the lives of believers, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Have you ever seen a test plot?—It’s a special field where a seed company tests it’s different varieties of seed, to see how well each one produces compared to the others. It’s kind of interesting to drive by and look at them, especially at harvest time. There will be three rows of corn, for example, with a big sign identifying them as Type A, three rows of Type B, three rows of Type C, and so on. The differences of each strain of seed are obvious when you look at the mature crops: one type of seed produces taller plants, another seed produces sturdier stalks, still another produces heavier ears of corn. They’re all planted in the same soil, so you know that the differences must lie in the different hybrids of seed that the company has developed. Even a child could look at a test plot like that and figure out…that different seed produces different crops.
Our text for today is the familiar Parable of the Sower. In this parable, Jesus tells the story of a particular kind of “test plot.” This test plot has four sections. In the first three sections, the crop fails so badly that it doesn’t bear any fruit at all. In the fourth section, there’s a bumper crop that produces a rich harvest. If you were driving past a test plot like that, you might think, “Well, I guess the first three sections must have had a poorer quality seed.” But in this parable, the seed is the same… The seed is the Word of God. And the four different outcomes represent the different ways that God’s Word is received in this world. Let’s probe a little more deeply into Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, as we consider the theme:
As you know, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It was a teaching device that Jesus used a lot when the multitudes gathered to listen to Him. You might ask, “Why did the Lord use parables in teaching people; why didn’t He just come out and say what He meant?” Well, there was a specific reason. And when the disciples showed confusion over the story of the Sower, Jesus explained that reason to them. “His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘What does this parable mean?’ And He 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.”’”
The majority of the Jews who flocked to Jesus were not—and would never be—believers. They had forsaken the faith of their ancestors. They no longer looked for the promised Messiah who would redeem them from their sins. What they wanted was an earthly King. In Jesus they saw a wonderful Man who could perform miracles of healing and feed five thousand people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. They thought He might be the One to finally kick the Romans out of Palestine and restore Israel to power! Repentance was the furthest thing from their minds. They had hardened themselves in sin and unbelief. That’s why Jesus taught in parables—He didn’t want to “cast pearls before swine.” Listening to these parables, the small remnant of believers among the Jews could learn the truths of God’s Word, while the same truths were hidden from those who had already closed their minds to the Gospel.
Jesus explained to His disciples: “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” Nowadays our farmers have seed drills which plant the seed with exact precision, putting it just where they want it, and no place else. In Jesus’ time, though, a farmer would simply walk across his fields with a bag of seed under his arm and scatter it by hand. This “broadcast method” of sowing was a far less accurate way of planting a field. But it’s a good picture of how the Word of God goes out in our day, isn’t it? Today, the Word of salvation through Christ is literally broadcast far and wide in the world. With all of the churches in our country; with all the Christian literature; with all the TV and radio evangelists on the air…I don’t think there could possibly be very many people left in America who haven’t heard the Gospel. And yet, there is such a multitude of people who don’t believe the Gospel!
-And that’s the point of this parable. The seed is the same. It’s the same Good News about Jesus that the Holy Spirit lays before the hearts of all men. But the results of that sowing of the Word are very different. You see? Same seed…different crops!
Whenever the seed of the Gospel fails to take root and grow in somebody’s heart, it’s because of sin. What an awful crop failure that is! But it’s a disaster that happens all too often. In the parable, Jesus describes how some of the seed was scattered on “the wayside,” or on the hard, trampled-down path where everyone walks. What does that represent? Jesus explains, “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts.” They’re the people who have become so hardened against God’s Word that it just can’t penetrate their hearts. There’s about as much chance of the Word taking root and growing in them…as there is of grass seed taking root and growing in a concrete sidewalk. They’re people who aren’t convinced of their sin; or, who realize their sin, but have hardened themselves and simply won’t repent and be saved. The same seed but—because of sin—a failed crop.
What about the seed that fell into the rocky soil? Jesus says they are the ones “…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.” We’ve all known people like that, too, haven’t we? The “fair weather Christians;” the enthusiastic new converts who are all excited about the faith at first…but who soon cool off and drift away from the Lord. The confident Christian young people who go off to college dead certain that nothing could ever shake their faith…but who suddenly find themselves robbed of their faith by the pervasive humanism of the university atmosphere. The Christian couple who vow faithfulness to God and each other at marriage…but who, when they’re faced with marital problems, end up taking the easy route of divorce, often giving up their faith and their marriage at the same time. All of these reveal a hidden shallowness of faith; an unwillingness to bear the “burden and heat of the day.” Once again, the same seed but—because of sin—a failed crop.
The sower scatters his seed…and some of it falls on thorny ground. “The ones that fell among thorns,” Jesus said, “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.” Perhaps in the neighborhood where you live, the trimmings and trappings of life are relatively modest. Maybe there are no million dollar homes or BMW’s on your street. But even in the most modest surrounding, the cares, riches and pleasures of life will manage to choke the Word of God out of people—people who are too wrapped up in the things they have, and in getting more things, to pay much attention to their souls. I’ve heard it often enough, and it breaks my heart: “Yes, Pastor—maybe someday I’ll stop in and talk to you about coming to church; but right now I’m too busy trying to make a go of my business.” Or, “I haven’t got time;” or even, “Sunday is the only day when I get to sleep in; I owe it to myself to relax.” The thorns and thistles and weeds of this world are crowding in on that heart…and crowding out the Word of Life! Once again, it’s the same seed, but—because of sin—a failed crop.
And you? “Oh, none of those situations apply to me,” you may be thinking, “I’m the good ground.” And you’re right—you Christians are the good ground; that last section of the test plot, where the seed springs up and bears good fruit. But remember: you weren’t good ground to start out with. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit that has made you good ground by giving you your faith in Jesus. By nature you, too, deserved the just condemnation of God for your sins. Scripture says, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Including you. Including me. All the more reason for us to rejoice, then, that the Lord has “created in me a clean heart, and renewed a right spirit within me.”
We can’t take credit for the fact that the Lord has chosen us to be that good ground in which the seed of His Word will mature and bear fruit. The credit belongs entirely to our loving God, as Paul said, “God has shown us the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Eph 2:7-9.
Yes, we believers are the good ground. In us, God would have His Word bear a healthy crop of the fruits of faith. But if there’s any bragging to be done, let’s be like the Apostle Paul, who boasted only in the love of his dear Lord Jesus. Here, indeed, is a Friend we can brag about! Because He love your and me, Jesus made the agonizing journey down the streets of Jerusalem, bearing His cross to Golgotha. We follow Him, step by step, in our hearts—we see again how much He gave of Himself in order to free us from our sins. We’ll see the brutality and the torture He endured, so you and I might enjoy the gentle love of God. He bore the punishment so we wouldn’t have to bear it. He suffered shame, so that we can stand unashamed before the judgment throne of God. With Paul, you too can boast a Savior slain, your best Friend whose holy life and innocent death earned for you an everlasting crown of glory. In the cross of Christ, your eternal victory is certain!
Jesus finished explaining the parable by saying, “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.” Yes, you are the good ground, and it’s God’s grace that has made you so. Yes, you are the ones with the noble and good hearts, and it’s God’s undeserved love that chose you, and created that heart within you. In the explanation to the Third Article of the Creed we confess this truth; maybe you remember those words that you once learned from the catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, nor come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
In Grace, God turned your heart into the rich soil that willingly received the seed of the Word. That precious word grew in your heart, and is still growing today. Simply by being here and listening to the preaching of the Gospel, you are allowing the Holy Spirit to nourish and enrich that growing seed. That Gospel is already bearing a bumper crop in your heart, and by the grace of God will continue to produce all kinds of fruits of faith in your life, until the Day when you will meet your loving Savior face to face in heaven.
My Grandfather, before he went to meet the Lord, was a farmer in Iowa. He raised corn in the days when anhydrous ammonia was commonly used as a fertilizer. He used to say that, when the crops are looking poorly, that’s when you’ve got to “pour the ammonia to the corn!” And that’s my advice to you today. Your family Bible is still there at home where it always was. If your faith has been on the slide lately…if you’re going through a difficult time in your life…if you’re feeling the weariness of just making it from day to day…then by all means my friends, pour the ammonia to corn! Open up your Bible! You’ve got a ready-made, life-enriching fertilizer in the Word of God. God grant that we may all make full use of that Word, and bring forth in our lives the bumper crop of God’s grace! In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.