27. February 2011
Today’s Gospel text is all about the power of God’s Word to prepare and to plant the seed of faith in our hearts. Today we will also consider WITNESS, another of the three emphases given to us by Scripture to understand the Christian church, WITNESS – MERCY – LIFE TOGETHER. The Parable of the Sower tells us of God and his gracious action to save our souls through the Word of Christ. The word WITNESS holds the key to understanding how this saving is accomplished.
Last week we learned about our Lord’s mercy, that is, his service for us. Mercy is giving us something we don’t deserve. What is that he gives us? What is it that he serves us with? That’s what is meant by witness. Witness in the New Testament comes from the Greek μαρτυρία, or testimony. The witness of Scripture is the μαρτυρία given by Jesus.
We bear witness to the Truth who was made flesh. The witness of the Scriptures is best confessed in the great Creeds of the church. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, from all eternity. The eternal Son was made flesh in Jesus Christ, died on the cross for the sins of the world, and was raised bodily from the dead on the third day, with life and salvation for all who believe in his Name. He is the only hope for sinful man. In him alone we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone.
St. John writes: “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:7–8). These witnesses still testify to Jesus: the Spirit, who comes to us in the preached word of God; the water, delivered with the Word in Holy Baptism; and the Blood of our Lord, offered for our sins and given us to drink, with his Body to eat, in his Holy Supper.
This doctrine, the Word of Jesus that is Spirit and Truth, is the beating heart of both our life together and our works of mercy. We therefore see to the preaching of this Word and the administration of the Sacraments in our community and, through our gifts and prayers, throughout the world.
It is these three witnesses that the Triune God uses to ever keep us in the true faith. It is these three witnesses that are the foundation of our outreach to our inactive members, our friends and family who have abandoned church, and to all those outside the fellowship of the saints. These witnesses of Spirit, water, and blood makes ready the trodden or hardened soil, uproots the cares and concerns of this world, and plants the good seed. These witnesses are the very thing that will bring more into our fellowship and keep them here.
Therefore, our witness to each other, to the unbeliever, and to the world is richer than typical “make a decision for Jesus.” Witnessing is bearing witness to the three witnesses of the Word, the Water, and the Blood. A witness that is Word and ignores the Sacrament is made impotent.
Today’s Gospel text helps reveal how important these three witnesses go together. This is a parable. Remember parables are not given for understanding, at least to those without faith. This means they are often an offense to the world, an offense to our flesh, and most definitely chock full of mystery. The Parable of the Sower is no exception.
The secrets of the kingdom of God are unfathomable without the Holy Spirit. To those outside the kingdom, “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
This is a shocking revelation from Jesus. There are some things that an unbeliever will not accept in regards to the kingdom.
Thankfully, we are Jesus’ disciples. To us he says, “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” These mesmerizing tales are comforting mysteries, consoling and confusing at the same time.
Jesus tells us the seed the sower sows is the word of God. It is the Word of God that is: “… living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and incentives of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). This is no ordinary seed but a seed that does what it seeks to do, that is create faith, call to repentance, and declare the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s blood.
We learn that God is kind of like a sociologist. He likes classifying people to help us understand their hearts. In this parable, we learn there are three different kinds of heart, where the seed either takes root and grows or fails. Yet, therein lies the mystery. The Word can fail. It is not irresistible. Does it fail because of God? Or does it fail for some other reason?
The answer is we have mortal enemies that seek to destroy the good that God would have for us through his Word. This is what the unbeliever doesn’t understand. God’s Word can be despised and forsaken. Enemies can be let in through the front door and the back.
There is a real enemy and he prowls around seeking someone to devour. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
Satan and his demonic host is a real enemy, even if you don’t want to believe in him. Actually, he far happier if you ignore him altogether. Then he can sneak in like a thief in the night and snatch away your faith. Knowing this, be on guard.
How? Hear, read, mark, and inwardly digest God’s Word. It is through his Word that your well-worn path of a heart is tilled deep, so that it is buried deep in the soil, protected from the crafty bandit. The Word is not powerless but the soil of our hearts may be so hard to resist the Word and lie exposed to the ready beak of the carrion.
Jesus gives us another example of the Word failing to take root. These hearts rejoice at the Word but being hard, fail to receive the root of the Gospel. A plant without root will soon fall away.
So it is with many. The precious gift of forgiveness quickens their heart and they feel great joy and excitement over faith. Maybe our new confirmand still has that thrill? But then the newness wears off. The excitement of Easter and Pentecost will give way to those mundane months of Trinity, boring the believers until Reformation and All Saint’s Day signals the coming of the happy time of Christmas.
Boredom can easily lead to resistance. The heart once prepared by the Word of grace for salvation is hardened to God’s free gift. I’ve got all this Jesus stuff, now tell me something new. No Jesus stuff means no ready soil and it means no faith. That seed of the Gospel, unless it is nurtured through repetition, fed with knowledge and wisdom, and then tested and tried, will fail when the big trial comes.
Then there are those pesky thorns. God’s Word and the cares of this world cannot coexist. Either one will grow and the other wither, or the one will wither and the other grow. If you’re more concerned about tomorrow’s work than you are for today’s Sabbath rest, you’re already being choked. If you’re more worried about retirement than the financial needs of the church, the thorns are already piercing through your neck. If your love of big-boy toys more than the joys of heaven received here each week, you faith is strangled.
Eventually, the good work begun in you will not reach its conclusion without attention to your weakness. What seems an innocent weed will creep up, encircle you, and before you know it, cut you off from Christ and his gifts. That’s Word that takes root, rises up for a time, but is forced to share its precious soil, its heart, with idols and idolatry.
All of these three soils are given to us by Jesus to understand the sinful heart. Every single one of us runs the risk of leaving ourselves exposed to Satan, hardening our hearts to the Word, or even thinking God’s Word can abide with unbelief.
While we yet struggle against the flesh, we still require the constant cultivation of grace. Our heavenly Father is the good gardener. He wants our heart to always be ready for his Son Jesus. He keeps showering his gift of mercy, the forgiveness of the cross, upon our perpetually dying heart, to once again enliven it and make it ready to receive God’s word again.
This is why regular attendance in the Divine Service is so necessary. The testimony of the blood received in our mouths restores our soil and nurtures the seed of the Word so that it can grow and flourish.
This is why I am trying to encourage the congregation to be daily in the Word through meditation and prayer. When we begin our prayers with the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God daily puts to death the weak sinful flesh and creates a new a fertile flesh for His seed to mature.
It is the naive Christian who thinks that enemies of faith hibernate from Sunday noon until the following Sunday at nine A.M. Christ himself warns us that the devil, our own flesh, and the cares of this world are fierce foes, never tiring and always seeking to destroy us.
For us who dwell richly in the Word, there is no need for alarm. This parable of the Sower is indeed a great Word of comfort. We are the fourth soil, holding fast to the word in an honest and good heart, and bear[ing] fruit with patience.The blessed Dr. Martin Luther wrote: “When we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understandings, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For the Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living.” (LC 1:101)
Isaiah himself spoke similarly: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-12)
You might yet be anxious about your heart. There is no need. The Word will accomplish what it set out to do. Repent and never fear. Turn away from the enemy, that heart of flesh, and the thorns of this world. Return to the Lord and be forgiven.
Never fear Christian! Christ seeks your heart with his precious seed. He has tilled the soil and planted the saving Gospel of forgiveness home. Rejoice in this precious gift. Pray in thanksgiving. Meditate upon all that Christ Jesus crucified has given you, namely forgiveness, a new life, and the promise of eternal salvation. Cast off the worries of the world, the constant demands of mistress Greed, and that silly pursuit of happiness and pleasure.
Instead, be blessed with the peace of the Lord in the Holy absolution, receive superabundant gifts of God in his Word and blessed Sacraments, and rejoice with the saints and angels, taking pleasure in our Lord and his abiding love. Let his Holy Word have its way with you, tilling a new heart of faith, and planting a seed that will bear fruit a hundredfold. Amen.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church