Bible Text: Luke 8:4-15 | Preacher: Pastor Andrew Richard | Series: Lent 2020 | Last week a master of a house went out to hire workers for his vineyard. This week “a sower went out to sow his seed.” The master of the house and the sower are both Jesus. It is important to note that both parables begin with Jesus going out, that is, they begin with the Son of God departing from heaven and coming to earth in the flesh. Everything good in both parables begins with and therefore depends on Jesus’ work and initiative.
“A sower went out to sow his seed.” This means that Jesus came to earth to preach his Word. And it’s called “his seed,” his Word, because the Word is about him. As much as Jesus proclaims God’s commandments as well as God’s promises, the core of the seed is the Gospel, that Jesus came to fulfill God’s commands and promises and thereby save us.
So the seed is the Word about Jesus, the Gospel. Jesus sows this seed on the ground, that is, on human hearts. If the seed has its way in the soil, then the seed of the Gospel sprouts the plant of faith which bears the fruit of good works.
However, not all soils are the same. The Gospel is received differently in different hearts. Jesus spends the bulk of the parable distinguishing between the soils, and along the way we receive warnings about things that hinder the Word, as well as constant reminders of Jesus’ grace in giving us his Word.
“And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.” This soil along the path stands for human hearts in which the Gospel does not even begin to take root. In these hearts the Word is trampled, that is, the Word is despised. We see plenty of this today: people who hate the Word of Christ because his Word doesn’t affirm them in their sins but calls them to repentance. They view the Word as some evil, oppressive force that seeks to enslave them to outdated ideals. But how backwards they have it! The Gospel is freedom and salvation, and those who hate the Word hate their own lives. It’s the devil’s word that enslaves.
And there circles the satanic bird, snatching the Word away. It may seem odd that the devil goes to the trouble of taking the seeds when they aren’t going to grow along the path anyway. But the devil understands that the Word has the power to change hearts. People may despise it now, but, if it stays with them, their hearts could become a different type of soil. And so the devil expends great effort and an endless beating of wings in order to make people forget the Word. He can’t prevent them from hearing it, but he does everything he can to prevent them from retaining it. And he knows what he’s about. “The devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” The Word sprouts faith. No Word, no faith. And so the devil has devoted his miserable existence to hindering, corrupting, and stealing the Word.
Now here in church we might be tempted to think that the devil couldn’t possibly be present because of all the holy things that are happening. Wherever the Word is, the Holy Spirit is at work through it. But at the same time, wherever the Word is, there is the devil seeking to take it away. Here in church you face one of the greatest struggles you face all week: the Word of Jesus is coming to you, and the devil is trying to steal it from you. We must make a conscious effort to pay attention to the Word and listen to it and retain it. As it says in 1 Peter 5, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”
“And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.” The seed in the parable is the Word, and the moisture is the continued hearing of the Word. Putting a seed in the ground does not produce a plant if the sower does not water it. And so the sower provides water for the soil in which the seed is growing. He continues preaching his Word, which is necessary for the faith that has sprouted from his Word.
And what’s the problem with the faith that grows in the rocky soil? It has no moisture. But doesn’t the sower constantly provide moisture? Certainly, but this faith has no root. Now the root doesn’t correspond to how long someone has been a Christian. Rather, consider what the root does. The root of a plant dives down into the soil seeking moisture. Without a root, a plant happens to receive whatever comes its way. Sometimes it rains and the plant can’t help but receive moisture, as when parents make their wayward children come to church. Other times, instead of rain there’s scorching sun, which dries up all the moisture at the surface of the earth, as when tribulation of persecution come on account of the Word.
But a root doesn’t leave the reception of moisture to chance; rather, it seeks it out. A plant with a deep root is faith that purposefully goes to the place where the Word is. To put it most simply, having a root means coming to church regularly. Faith that continues to receive the Word doesn’t have to fear the scorching sun of tribulation or persecution. When faith is moist with the Word then the sun is quite good for it.
When faith has a root, then it’s like it says in Jeremiah 17, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree transplanted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” But of those on the rock it says, “these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” They used to believe. But those who used to believe are currently unbelievers, and against being such Jesus warns, “He who endures to the end will be saved.”
“And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.” In this soil the plant of faith has other plants competing with it. Now there are a couple of comforting things we can keep in mind as we begin to consider this third soil. First is that Jesus is the one who sows the seed and cares for the plant. Jesus is the Gardener who comes and rips out the thorns, and he does it by means of his Word. His Word alone dispels our worries and makes our hearts love him instead of the world. If you notice the cares of life or love of the world sprouting up in your heart alongside faith, Jesus doesn’t tell you to pull them up and get your Christian life on track. We have a choice whether or not to indulge the thorns, but we don’t ultimately have the power to remove them. Rather, the thorns should make us think, “I need the Word of Jesus.” We trust in the Gardener for deliverance, not in ourselves.
The second comforting thing to consider is that the thorns only choke when they grow up and overcome the other plant. There is no such thing as soil that doesn’t grow weeds. Even soil that we would call “good” grows weeds. So also there is no such thing as a human heart that does not grow false trust and perverse love. Even in the good heart thorns and thistles peep through the soil. And by his Word, Jesus uproots these things as they come. By his Word he doesn’t let them go on growing long enough to harm the plant of faith.
So then how did the thorns get along so far in this third soil if Jesus actively uproots such harmful things? The thorns got so far because the heart learned to love the thorns. The heart deluded itself into thinking that faith in Christ and faith in other things could exist together. This third soil likely continued hearing the Word for a while. The hostile takeover of the thorns is a gradual process. It’s dangerous because it’s gradual. As the thorns slowly grow up it’s easy to let them slide or excuse them.
So the third soil continues hearing the Word and faith grows, and this soil continues its obsession with the world, and the thorns grow. Eventually the things of the world and faith come into conflict. The Word calls the heart away from the world, as it says in Revelation 18, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!… Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues.” And as Jesus reaches out through his Word to pluck out the worldly weeds, the heart bats the Word away. The heart has changed from saying, “I don’t want anything that challenges the Word,” to saying, “I don’t want anything that challenges the world.” “As they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” The soil has given itself over to the thorns, and the dead, fruitless stalk of faith decomposes in their midst.
“And some fell on good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” In the good soil the Word implants, and faith sends out its root, and the thorns are kept at bay, and that plant of faith blossoms and bears the fruit of good works. The most important thing to note about this good soil is that the Word alone has made it good. The Word does it all. That’s why Jesus sows his Word along paths and on rocks and amidst thorns, as ridiculous as that might seem from a farming perspective. Why waste the seed? Because how else is there going to be good soil? The soil along the path can’t make itself good, the soil on the rock can’t make itself good, the soil amidst the thorns can’t make itself good. And good soil cannot be found. It must be made, and the Word of Jesus alone can make good soil.
And in this way Jesus’ Word is very much like him. Jesus came to save those who couldn’t save themselves. He died on the cross, not for those who were already good, but for sinners, to take away our sins and make us good. Jesus went out for the salvation of all, and even though many by their own stubborn will wouldn’t be saved, Jesus gave his life for them anyway. So also Jesus brings his Word to all, even if most don’t receive it or end up rejecting it. And it is a great sign of Jesus’ love that he didn’t say, “Fine, you don’t want me? I’ll stay in heaven! Fine, you don’t want my Gospel? Then you can’t have it.” Rather, it is as if Jesus says, “I never tire of wasting my breath, so greatly do I desire the salvation of mankind.”
And his labors are not in vain. By his Word Jesus has gotten for himself good soil. The good soil is not sinless soil. The good soil does not lack circling birds or scorching sun or sprouting weeds. There is one thing that characterizes the good soil: the good soil holds fast the Word. Holding fast the Word is the chief fruit of faith. And therefore even enduring in the Word is a result of the Word. If there’s one thing to learn from this parable it’s that the Word of Jesus does everything. The Word is the seed that sprouts faith, it is the moisture that nourishes faith, it is the trowel with which Jesus removes the thorns. Jesus’ Word is our greatest treasure, because it’s a Word about what he has done for us. And as is Jesus, so is his Word: he is all-sufficient, he does it all. Amen.