The Seed Bears Fruit According to its Kind–Sexagesima Sermon (edited) (2013)
This is the shorter version, something like what I actually preached. It was about 25 minutes. I’m going to post the first draft because even I can’t believe how long it was.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 8:4-15
February 3, 2013
“The seed bears fruit according to its kind”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our kids get their DNA from their mom and dad, so they are different from their parents. But not that different. Look at pictures of your great-grandparents and great-great grandparents and see. Seeds produce fruit according to their kinds. A pine cone never grows into a lemon tree. And human beings conceived in the womb always grow up to be the kind of seed they are—Adam and Eve seed. What we are when we’re full grown is the same as what we were at conception; fallen man. A creature that once had the glorious image of God but exchanged it for shame and a curse, for death and God’s anger.
The world we live in is full of quiet witnesses to the wisdom, power, and goodness of God. He is able to concentrate abundant life into the tiniest of containers, as He does with seeds. And He does it all the time. But the world doesn’t tell us that God who is able to make life will restore life to humankind. It tells us that each new human seed that grows up in the world dies just like the one before it. How could it be different? An unclean seed can only produce seeds like itself. The first man’s nature was hostile to God when he took the fruit God commanded must not be eaten. That was the only kind of life Adam could pass on—life that begins in rebellion against God and ends in death.
The Bible tells how as soon as the first man and woman confessed their sin, God promised that the seed of a woman would come and destroy the one who holds the power of death—the liar, the ancient serpent. God would plant His Son into the midst of the human race, and He would bring forth offspring in His image—seed not hostile to God, but well-pleasing, sharing His life.
Jesus is that seed. He is true man and true God. He is a new man, not corrupt from birth like Adam and his seed. He is innocent and not under judgment.
He comes to bring forth other sons of God. And to do this, He sows the seed of His Word. Jesus sows His life giving, fruitful seed among us—the Word of His death and resurrection. The seed produces fruit according to its kind. Just as a tree brings forth other trees like itself through its seed, Jesus brings forth other sons of God like Himself through the seed of His Word.
- How the seed works
If you lived two thousand years ago and wanted to grow wheat, you had to sow. This was not a scientific process. You just threw handfuls of seed around your field as you walked through it. Then some would land in the dirt and start growing.
Jesus’ Word works the same way. The Word is the Word of Christ—it is the Word that tells about Jesus. More than that, Jesus Himself is in the Word, like the future plant is “in” the seed.
Where Jesus’ word is received in faith, the seed of Christ’s Word is growing. Wherever it is growing, Christ’s kingdom is present. The person who believes in Jesus is a son of God in the image of Jesus, a co-worker and co-ruler with Jesus.
- Fruit—Christ does His work in us
Usually when a sower goes out to sow seeds in a field, he doesn’t want these plants to just produce a stalk and leaves. He wants fruit—tomatoes, or cucumbers, or corn, or grain.
Jesus is the same when He scatters His seed. He’s not satisfied just to have the Word fall on your ears, or even to have it take root in your heart and begin to grow. He wants it to come to maturity, to completion. He wants it to bear fruit.
i. Fruits of the Spirit
The seed of His Word begins to grow when it is heard and believed. “You are justified by Christ alone,” the Gospel says, and immediately in the one who hears and believes new life begins. It is the new life that is in the seed—the new creature that you are in Christ instead of the old creature born from Adam’s seed.
A seed that has germinated starts living and growing immediately. But you don’t see it. It takes several days before the little green shoot pushes through the dirt. And it takes a long time for that little shoot to grow to the point where you can be reasonably sure it’s going to survive. Even after that, a lot of things can happen that might keep it from successfully bringing forth fruit.
That’s the way it is with the life of Christ in us. When faith begins, immediately His life starts to grow in us. Virtue, knowledge of God, self-control, joy, peace, patience, steadfastness, godliness, kindness, gentleness, goodness, love—they begin to grow the way a seed grows into roots and a stem—all aiming toward the mature plant that bears fruit.
- ii. Co-rulers and co-workers with Jesus
The seed of the Word reaches maturity when we are completely new and nothing remains of the nature of Adam. We are our new selves in Christ. We have died and risen again. In the meantime we grow. We grow in Christ. But that means our old nature dies. “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day,” St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians (4:16).
That dying of the old and rising of the new is a process. But Christians don’t live hoping that the process will continue to its completion; we live by faith in Jesus. In His death and resurrection we are already complete. We don’t simply live hoping that we will one day become fully grown sons of God. We are already “Sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of [us] who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [Galatians 3]. We already call God “Father” as though we were already completely renewed in Christ.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come,” St. Paul tells us [2 Corinthians 5:17]. We are justified. Our sins are not counted to us. They were accounted to Jesus on the
cross. Now His righteousness is counted to us. So we pray to the Father as sons together with Jesus.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” [Romans 8:16-17]. We are co-heirs with Christ and also co-rulers and co-workers with Him. He does His work in us and through us.
- iii. Whatever you ask in my name…
“If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.” Jesus says this to His disciples in John 15 [:7-8].
We bear much fruit when, as children of God, we pray with the access Jesus have given to the Father. Those prayers that come from faith in Christ’s Word receive whatever they request from the Father. Because we know the Father and are His children, He hears us. Because the Holy Spirit teaches us through the Word of Christ, we not only are changed into the image of Christ, but we learn to pray according to God’s will. We learn what God has promised and what He has commanded, and we pray for the things He has promised.
In this way we bear “much fruit.” We don’t merely do human work. We are working together with Christ. He works in us to pray for what He sees is needed by the Church, the world, and our neighbors. The faith in Jesus that starts to grow when the seed of His Word in our hearts makes us participants in Jesus’ work as priest and king. The fruit that comes from this prayer is fruit that endures to eternal life, because it is the fruit of Jesus Himself coming forth in us.
- Failed sowing
Yet according to Jesus, in 3 out of 4 types of hearers, His Word does not result in fruit. Why is that? It’s not because there was something wrong with the seed. The seed of the Gospel says “Your sins are forgiven through Jesus’ blood.” It is not an uncertain word. It is a word of salvation. In every case where the seed of the Gospel does not result in a person coming to maturity in Christ and reaching eternal life, it is because the hearer does not allow it to do its work.
The Gospel is not received. Or it is received, but only as long as things feel good and look good. Or it is received by faith but is stunted and choked by all the other concerns of this world.
It’s not that Jesus doesn’t earnestly desire the full salvation of everyone who hears the Word. He sows it everywhere; He lets the good news of the forgiveness of sins fall on hard hearts that don’t listen, and on those who are unwilling to keep His word unless everything is nice, and on those who refuse to trust His Word alone, but divide their loyalty between Jesus and the wisdom of this world.
- Good soil
- Are you good soil?
So then we have to ask ourselves—“What kind of soil am I?” A seed, from the time it germinates, is always growing. If it stops growing, it is almost certainly going to die. And a Christian, from the moment faith begins, also is growing. He prays constantly that the Lord would bring him to the goal—maturity in Christ and everlasting life.
i. How all three are evident in us.
So what kind of soil are you? How do you hear Christ’s word? As soon as you hear it, do you forget it? Does it have any affect on you? Or do you barely listen to it? Does Satan snatch away the word? This not only happens to people who only hear the Word occasionally, but also to those who hear it frequently. There are many times when Christians who have not yet fallen away simply don’t listen to the Word, or don’t receive it as God’s Word, and the word that Jesus has planted in their ears is snatched away by the devil.
When hardship comes, do you still trust God? When you have no feeling of joy about the Gospel, do you still pray for God to bring forth fruit in you? Do you still faithfully do what God has called you to do? Or do you turn away from the Word and seek comfort somewhere else? Are you willing to be faithful and stay with the Word even though it means suffering for you—even though people call you evil? Are you willing to stand with those who suffer for the sake of the Word of God? Or do you back off and find ways to avoid confessing Christ?
Do you find that you don’t have time to give much attention to God’s Word, or that many times there are other things you would rather do? Do you often live as if the Word of God is fine as long as it is kept in its proper place and not allowed to spill out into other areas of life?
ii. We do not love the Word
Oh, the characteristics of the soil in which Christ’s living word does not grow and produce fruit will be evident in your heart if you are honest.
True Christians love the Word of God. Yet even in them there is much opposition to God’s word, much unwillingness to suffer, much idolatrous worry and seeking after the world, and much despising of God’s Word. The flesh of Adam is not gone in anyone, whether they believe or not. And the heart we were born with is naturally bad soil, totally inhospitable to the seed Christ sows, the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through His cross.
iii. We can’t make ourselves good soil
How can we get an “honest and good heart” that will hold on to the word and produce fruit? We can’t. Dirt doesn’t plow itself, dig out rocks, or pull weeds out of itself. It is what it is.
Christians engage in combat with their hearts. They mourn over their sins and cry out to God for forgiveness and deliverance. But they themselves are not able to make their hearts good.
A good and honest heart is good and honest because it confesses that it has nothing good in it, and no power to make itself good. An honest and good heart is honest and good because it looks only to Jesus and His promise in the Gospel and sacraments for assurance of salvation and deliverance from bondage to sin.
- “He became sin for us that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”
There is good news for those who recognize their terrible bondage to sin, that their hearts always want to reject the Gospel.
The evil of our hearts cannot be destroyed by us. But it has already been perfectly destroyed outside of us. Jesus sows the good news of His cross. That good news also says this—our sinful nature, which still lives in us and is not completely destroyed, has been destroyed in Him.
“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” [2 Corinthians 5:21] Jesus sows this seed on our hearts. Not only has He made atonement for our sins. He also put our sinful nature to death. We can’t understand this. How can my sinful nature be put to death when the law shows me sin at work within me every day?
It’s not something to be understood, but to be believed, because the Word of God says it clearly and repeatedly. One of the most beautiful passages is Romans 8:1-4:
8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Sin was condemned in the flesh of Jesus. It died there. When it rises up within us we pray to God for help and we resist it, saying, “You are dead.” When Satan shows us how much sin lives in us, we can say, “Yes, but it is really dead. I am free from the law of sin and death. Christ has done what the law could not do because of my sinful flesh. In His innocent flesh He put to death my sinful flesh. So there is no condemnation for me.”
If you willfully live in sin, there is condemnation for you. But when you struggle against it and seem to be overcome again and again, there is no condemnation, because Christ was condemned for you.
And so when you see the characteristics of the bad soil within yourself, it doesn’t mean that you have no faith. Look to Jesus and say, “Lord, you promise that you have finished my salvation. I fear that my sinful heart has already destroyed your life within me, or that it will. But you have said that you have already completed my salvation. So I put my trust not in the growth or fruits I see in my heart, but only in Your cross, which you have proclaimed as being for me in Your Word.”
A growing plant does not turn around to see if it is growing. It faces the sun and stretches toward it. Look to Jesus Christ crucified, who is the true light that gives life to men. In Him you are already perfected. In Him you are already righteous and have risen from the dead and been seated at the Father’s right hand.
- He baptized you into Jesus’ death.
Christ has not only proclaims His death for you on the cross in the preaching of the Gospel. He also has baptized you. And Paul declares that in Baptism Jesus made you good soil. He made you dead to the old Adam and alive to God, passively trusting Christ alone. Do you not know that all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).
We have already died and been raised. Christ died for you on the cross. You were crucified with Him in Baptism. Therefore when we see our sinful nature rise up, we cry to our Father in heaven with that promise: “You have called me by your name. You have joined me with Jesus, put my old nature to death and raised me from the dead! Let sin no longer have dominion over me!”
It is to this that we fly when the wicked unbelief of our hearts seems to make it impossible that our hearts could be receptive to the word—
We flee to Jesus only. We flee to His promise in the Word, in Baptism; and we take that promise to the Father for forgiveness and for deliverance from sin.
This is what private confession and absolution is good for; those things that show how your heart is bad soil. You go confess them, and Christ Himself speaks about it; “Your sins are forgiven.”
- His Word will accomplish that for which He sends it.
- Comfort for when the Church struggles—do we have His Word? Then it will do its work despite our failures.
- Comfort for ourselves: Will we persevere? Good soil simply is the passive recipient of the Seed. The seed will do its work. The seed bears fruit according to its kind.
- “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Certainty of prayer/certainty of faith.
Soli Deo Gloria
- Prayers for Sexagesima and Quinquagesima (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Jesus and self-justification (cnhfaith.me)
- Carissimi: Sunday’s Mass; Sexagesima (frjeromeosjv.wordpress.com)
- Crawl to the Cross. Septuagesima Sermon (Matt. 20:1-16), Jan. 27, 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Parable of the Sower (joequatronejr.wordpress.com)
- Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart (challies.com)