Today we are going to focus on our Gospel lesson, the familiar parable of the Sower and the seed, from Luke 8. We will focus especially on the concluding thought that those who produce good fruit are those who hold tightly to the word and patiently endure.
Sometimes, when we hear God say that his word does not return empty but accomplishes whatever he pleases, we expect that doing evangelism work should be easy. His word is powerful. He wants all to be saved, so if we share the word with someone they should immediately repent and believe. When that doesn’t happen when you share God’s word with your friends, or when as a Pastor you take someone all the way through a Bible Information class and then you never see them again, it’s easy to get frustrated and to think that you did something wrong. It’s always good to do self-evaluation. But Jesus uses this parable to remind us to focus on what is our job and leave the rest up to him.
Jesus explains to his disciples and to us that the seed in the parable is the Word of God. The sower is anyone who sows, or proclaims, the word of God. The sower doesn’t have the benefit of modern machinery, a planter or a drill. He simply broadcasts the seed and lets it fall wherever it may.
Since the soil represents hearts, and only God knows a person’s heart, we are to broadcast God’s word like the sower. We don’t ask ourselves if the people we are speaking to seem ready to hear what God says. If we have the opportunity to share what God says we are to take it. God sent Ezekiel to proclaim his word to the people whether they would listen or fail to listen. His purpose would be accomplished one way or another. Some would listen and be brought to repentance and faith. Others would fail to listen, but they would be without excuse because they had heard the word and rejected it.
Sowing the seed of God’s word takes patient endurance. It’s easy to give up and think, “What’s the use, no one is listening.” It’s easy to feel like Jeremiah who said, the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. It takes patient endurance to continue to speak the truth of God’s word in love to everyone when doing so more often than not brings insults, reproach, and even persecution rather than repentance and faith. But God calls us to such patient endurance. We might say that he measures “success” not by how many people come to repentance and faith through our sowing of the word, but by how much seed we sow.
Consider what God told Ezekiel, When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die, ‘ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved. God holds us accountable for sowing the seed, not for how many plants grow.
In our post Christian society it’s easy for us to shirk our responsibility to be sowers of the word. It’s easy to simply remain silent, to hide our faith, to ignore opportunities to stand up for God and his word so that we can avoid insults and trouble. It’s easy to say, “I’ll leave the sowing of the word up to the professionals, they get paid to do it.” When we catch ourselves thinking that way remember God’s strong warning to Ezekiel. I will hold you accountable for the blood of those who didn’t hear God’s word because you failed to sow it. When we catch ourselves thinking that way may we be moved to confess our lack of patient endurance and look to the one who patiently endured for us. Jesus not only sowed the seed of the word among those who were eager to hear it, but he sowed it among the hard-hearted Jewish leaders, and before Pilate and Herod. As we receive the forgiveness he won for us we are moved to say with Jeremiah, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
By God’s grace, as we heard the word of God, many of us even before we were born, then at our baptism, at the family altar, at church, at Sunday school, God saw to it that our hearts were prepared and the seed of the word was received with joy and thanksgiving. By God’s grace, the Devil was not able to keep the word from touching our hearts. It’s all by God’s grace. We had nothing to do with where we were born, or whether or not our parents, or others, sowed the seed of God’s word in our presence. Like everyone else, the ground of our hearts was beaten down and rocky because everyone is born dead in sin, spiritually blind and an enemy of God. All the glory goes to him for the plant of faith that has sprung up in our hearts.
By God’s grace the seed of the word has taken root and the plant of faith is growing in our hearts, but patient endurance is necessary. Jesus says that some of the seed takes root, a plant of faith begins to grow, but then a time of testing comes. Satan couldn’t prevent the word from taking root, but he is not going to give up. As he did with Job, he will ask to put us to the test. When he does we will be tempted to say, “I didn’t sign up for this. If believing in Jesus doesn’t make my life better, then I’m done with Jesus.” We need to continue to hear the word so that we are strengthened to patiently endure and not give up. We need to hear the word so that we are reminded that in this world we will have trouble, but Jesus has overcome the world and has something far better waiting for those who endure trials, troubles, temptations and remain in faith until the end.
Patient endurance is necessary because Satan isn’t our only enemy. The thorns of the worries, riches and pleasures of life are constantly trying to grow in our hearts along side our plant of faith. They may not be able to choke out the plant of faith, but very often they keep it from maturing and producing abundant fruit in our lives. The truth of this is seen in the fact that as Christians have prospered the percentage of gifts given to the Lord’s work has declined in every Christian denomination. The percentage of giving by Christians was greater in the great depression than it is now. The truth that thorns are choking faith and keeping it from maturing and producing abundant fruit is seen in a general lack of mission zeal, and the fact that less than half of those who profess the Christian faith participate in worship or Bible study each week. The truth that thorns are chocking faith and keeping it from maturing and producing abundant fruit is seen in the fact that those who do participate in worship and Bible study sometimes treat each other in less than loving ways and join the world in trashing the 8th commandment by rushing to judgment and promoting gossip instead of taking the words and actions of others in the kindest possible way.
It’s dangerous to salvation for us to sit back and say, “it’s obvious that my heart was good ground. I have faith. I have an honest and good heart because I believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation.” Never forget that, no matter how strong you think your faith is, Satan is at work. The thorns of the worries, riches and pleasures of life need to be constantly weeded out of our hearts by daily contrition and repentance. Our sinful nature keeps bobbing up out of the water and needs to be down again and again. The world, even people who claim to be Christians, are constantly telling us that God’s word is not trustworthy, that it needs to be changed or correct to fit modern ideas of truth and morality. All this calls not for complacency, but for patient endurance.
Jesus says that those who have an honest and good heart hold to the word tightly. As you hold to the word tightly you will recognize when you are becoming lax or complacent in your faith. You will be moved to see and confess your own sins daily. You will be enabled to recognize falsehood. You will cling to the word because, only through the word do you receive the assurance that, in Jesus, you have forgiveness and eternal life. Only through the word are you reminded that, no matter what anyone else says, Jesus is the only way, truth and life. No one comes to the Father, no one is saved except through him.
Salvation in Jesus alone works patient endurance. It motivates us to hold tightly to the word for ourselves. It motivates us to broadcast the seed of the word everywhere, and to as many as we can whether they seem to listen or not. God grant us patient endurance.