The Word of God Alone. Sexagesima 2015
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 8:4-15
February 8, 2015
“The Word of God Alone”
Beloved in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel for this Sunday discusses a great mystery. It tells us about the power and fruitfulness of the divine Word. It also tells us that this powerful, divine Word in many cases bears no fruit in those who hear it, and explains why that is. It is a solemn warning to us to be careful about the way we hear God’s Word; at the same time it comforts us by showing us the divine power of the Word that is preached to us and is at work among us.
First of all, notice the fact that in Jesus’ parable the Word of God does all the work. Hearers of the Word are not compared to living beings but to soil, which is as passive a substance as we can imagine. What does ground, soil, earth do? It receives what is put into it. Nothing more. Everything depends upon the seed that is sown in it.
“The seed is the Word of God,” Jesus says. Where the seed is not sown, there is no fruit. Where God’s Word is not proclaimed, there is no salvation. But where the Word of God is proclaimed, life begins to sprout, trying to produce fruit.
So then everything depends first of all on the pure Word of God being preached. Where this happens, spiritual life will begin to grow. Wherever there is no preaching of God’s pure word, there will be only barren ground producing no fruit. This is why in the Lord’s prayer we pray first that God’s name would be hallowed. That means that His word would be preached in its truth and purity, because where that does not happen the seed is not being sown, and no life will result.
Secondly, see the divine power of the Word. It is not a mere human word which may or may not accomplish anything. It is a heavenly and divine Word that brings salvation and eternal life with it. Paul says in the first chapter of Romans, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16) The Word of God, preached in its truth and purity, is God’s power to save. It is a mighty, omnipotent Word that is preached in our midst. It has the power to snatch sinners from Satan’s kingdom, to turn their hearts to God, to make them blessed forever, to make them bear fruit that will abide forever.
Wherever the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity we can be sure that something amazing is happening there. God is establishing His kingdom there. He is gathering a people of His own there who are holy, who inherit eternal life, who do works that are pleasing to God and will endure into eternity.
God’s Word does not come back to Him empty, as Isaiah says in the Old Testament reading. It gathers a people for Himself, saves them, justifies them through faith in Jesus. That is happening here and wherever God’s Word is preached purely. It’s not happening by human strength or persuasion. It happens by God’s almighty power that is at work in the Word.
But we don’t see this happening. We don’t see with our eyes the power and glory of God’s Word, nor do we see a little community of saints being gathered. What we see is a lot of people who hear the Word and it never seems to make any impression on them. Others hear the Word for awhile and then they fall away and we never see them again. Among those who keep hearing the Word it’s often hard to see the fruit through all the weeds of weakness and sin that grow in the visible community of the church.
But even though we don’t see it, it’s happening. Jesus is gathering His harvest of souls through His Word. That will happen; it’s certain. What Jesus teaches us to pray in the 2nd petition of the Lord’s prayer is that His Kingdom will not simply come—that happens by itself, without our prayer. We pray that it would come to us also, that God would give us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
We need to pray this petition because there are many who hear the Word of God in vain. Jesus says the reason why His Word seems to have no effect in so many cases is not because the Word lacks power but because most hearers of the Word don’t keep it. They hear it. They even believe it for a time. But they resist the working of the Word.
So Jesus shows us in this parable the requirements for a faithful hearing of the Word of God.
First of all we have to give God’s Word careful, serious, and attentive hearing. “And as He sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it.” The path would be hard-packed soil. Any seed falling on it would simply lie on the surface of the hard ground, not able to sink in and germinate. On top of this Jesus says that the seed sown on the path was trampled underfoot and then eaten by the birds of the air. This symbolizes those who hear the Word of God but harden their hearts against it so that it cannot take root.
All of us by nature are born with hearts hardened and dead toward God. When someone listens to the Gospel whose heart is not broken up by repentance, the good news of Christ doesn’t take root in them. Maybe they come to church and simply have no intention of listening to God’s Word. Maybe their hearts are already set on some other false belief which they will not let go and so they resist the Gospel when they hear it. Others come to church not seriously listening to the sermon as God’s Word, but as sweet religious talk that makes us feel better. Whatever the case, the devil does not simply let the Word of God remain there on their hard hearts, lest it eventually take root and begin to grow anyway. Satan comes and snatches the Word away so that it does not remain in the heart at all. Oftentimes when people come to church not seriously ready to listen to the Word as the Word of the living God, this is what happens. The Word never enters the heart and it is snatched away by Satan before it produces any fruit. Therefore Jesus shows us that we are required to listen to God’s Word as it is—the Word of the living God—and not ignore and despise it as if it were simply a human word, the way students ignore teachers at school. And this applies not only to adults, but also to young people and children. It is the third commandment—Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy. We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Secondly, Jesus shows that fruitful hearing of the Word requires perseverance. The seed that fell on the rock “are those who, when they hear the Word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for awhile, and in time of testing fall away.” God is not satisfied with a hearing of the Gospel that only believes as long as there is outward peace and happiness that goes along with it. Jesus says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22
The Gospel is called “The word of the cross.” It proclaims a Savior who was persecuted all the way to being nailed to a cross, and the Word brings the cross with it to us. God requires that those who hear His Word faithfully and fruitfully remain with it even when life is hard and full of suffering—even more, when there is outright opposition and hostility to Christians for the sake of the Word. But our nature is weak and we want to run away from the Word whenever it does not bring us earthly happiness, but instead comes with suffering.
Finally, for fruitful hearing of the Word God requires that His Word come before the worries and pleasures of this earthly life. Often times we come to church and can barely pay attention to the Word because our hearts are occupied by other things—whether our worries or with things we would rather be doing. But even if we pay attention in church, if we then go off and spend the next six days thinking only about paying bills, or getting a new television, or playing video games, or our girlfriend or boyfriend, the Word is choked. The Word wants to bear fruit. It wants to make us into the image of Christ, so that we grow in the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Word of God wants to grow up in us so that we produce the fruit of our lips—praise of God and the confession of Jesus Christ before the world. But the Word’s growth is stunted and choked by the thorns of our self-interest.
All of this should frighten us and make us realize the difficulty of salvation—in fact, the impossibility of salvation apart from God’s grace. The Word of God grows up into salvation when it is not blocked by bad soil. But we are constantly struggling with these characteristics of the three kinds of bad soil. Often our hearts are not ready to listen carefully to God’s Word. Or we are afraid and ready to desert the Gospel as soon as it looks like we will have to suffer for it. Or our hearts are so filled with the pleasures and worries of this lie that the Word of God cannot find any space in us to grow.
So what do we do?
First, examine yourself about your hearing of God’s Word. This is painful to do because we have to come face to face with the way we have neglected and despised God’s Word. Ask yourself—do I gladly hear and learn God’s Word? Do I hunger for it? Or am I often bored by it and neglect opportunities to hear and learn it? Do I teach it to my children? Has my hearing of the Word resulted in my growth in the faith and the fruits of the Spirit, or am I the same as I was last year, or five years ago?
Second, turn in repentance to the means of grace and prayer. Take your sin in failing to hear the Word fruitfully to God in confession and receive absolution. Ask for hunger for His Word in prayer. Read the Scripture. Learn the catechism by heart and teach it to your children.
Let the awareness of your failure to honor and listen to God’s Word, your unwillingness to bear the cross for it, and your preoccupation with the cares of this life drive you to the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood seeking healing and new life.
But most importantly, listen to the Word. Listen to it today and put all your trust and confidence in the contents of that Word. Listen to who and what it proclaims.
It proclaims Jesus who came to earth for you and who always heard and listened to and obeyed the voice of His Father. He clung to the Father’s Word and persevered with it even when it brought Him to the agony of Gethsemane and the bitter suffering and death of the cross. He put aside all the desires of our flesh—all its worries and cravings—and instead gave Himself to hear and serve the Word of the Lord.
And because He heard and served God’s Word He willingly gave Himself as the sacrifice for our disobedience to God, for our taking His Word lightly, for our failures to remain with it.
For you He did these things, so that your failure to hear and hold sacred God’s Word might not be counted against you. He put to death your flesh in His body on the tree so that you might be counted good and fruitful soil.
He alone is our righteousness before God, and He is given to you today in the Word.
This Word of God alone is a powerful word. It saves those who believe it and makes them righteous before God. It works in them so that they bear fruit to God. It turns the hearts of those who hated God toward Him so that they love Him and find comfort in calling Him Father. It does this because it shows us and gives us Jesus, who turned God’s heart toward us by His death. He has made satisfaction for our failures to hear God’s Word.
This Word of God alone is everything we need for salvation. It declares that Christ alone has done it all, has reconciled us to God and presented us perfect before Him. Those who cling to this Word alone will bear much fruit through Jesus and be saved through Jesus. You are good soil because you cling to Jesus alone.
Soli Deo Gloria