He Died For All, That Those Who Live Might No Longer Live For Themselves. Quinquagesima 2017. St. Luke 18:31-43
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 18:31-43 (1 Cor. 13)
February 26, 2017
“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves”
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15
For whom do you live your life? For yourself? Or for Jesus?
There was a grandmother who had a grandson that she loved. When he was little, his parents would bring him over to her house on Christmas and at his birthday and other important days. The grandmother had very little money, but she always gave him the best present she could on Christmas and his birthday, because she loved him. When he was little, he would open his present and say, “Thank you, grandma!” and give her a hug.
When he got to be a teenager and started to grow up into a man, he didn’t have much time for his grandma. She still saved up to give him gifts at his birthday and Christmas, and his parents still brought him over, even though he usually looked like he wanted to be somewhere else. And when he opened the card with money in it, he still said, “Thanks, grandma,” and gave her a hug. But except for those occasions when he came over, she never heard from him.
Later he went to college and then got a job in another city, far away. His grandmother still loved him, and still sent him gifts. And sometimes he would call her on the phone and say “Thanks, grandma” when he got them. Other times he wouldn’t.
Soon she went into a nursing home. The family had all moved away. She seldom got visitors. Her grandson called very little. He was busy with work and his family. The grandmother didn’t feel any bitterness toward him. She loved him. She never sent him those gifts because she wanted to buy his affection; she just loved him.
When she died, and her grandson came to her funeral, he didn’t have any flash of insight where he realized he had been ungrateful. He went home and went on with his life, never realizing how he had been loved.
Has anyone here ever seen this story happen in real life? I have not only seen it; I have been the grandson—so wrapped up in my own desires and problems that I did not recognize when love was being shown to me. So I did not receive it. I did not respond to it. I appreciated the gifts, but did not receive the love of the person that motivated the gifts. How tragic.
But not only tragic for me. Not only tragic for the people in your life who have treated you or others you know in the same way. Tragic for you as well! Because the way the grandson responded to his grandmother’s love is the way that you—often, maybe always—respond to the love of God.
Today is Quinquagesima, which means “fiftieth”, because it is roughly 50 days before Easter. On this Sunday the Gospel reading records how Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and how, near the city of Jericho, a blind man heard the crowd that was going with Jesus travelling through. He cried out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” We heard how even though the crowd told him to stop making a scene he kept shouting this, and how Jesus stopped, called the man over to Him, and restored his sight. Then, St. Luke records, “He immediately recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.”
The formerly blind man immediately begins to follow Jesus. Where is Jesus going, and what will happen to Him there? The formerly blind man doesn’t ask; he doesn’t care. He follows Jesus without worrying about what will come from following him. He loves Jesus and wants to be with Him. He loves Jesus because he has received not only his sight, but Jesus’ love.
You might think, “Of course he followed Jesus after Jesus did such a great miracle for him!” But it’s not obvious at all that he would do this. A chapter before this in Luke’s gospel Jesus healed 10 men with leprosy, and only one came back to give thanks to the Lord.
No. Many times Jesus does wonderful things for people, and they are like the grandson in the story I told you. “Thanks, Jesus,” they say. “Now I can get back to my life—to my job, my family, my friends, my cell phone.” In fact, that is how people normally respond to Jesus’ gifts. Even more often, people don’t even acknowledge that Jesus has given them a gift.
They go on living for themselves.
When it is pointed out to us that this is what we are doing, we frequently get mad. Look, we say, what do you expect from me? Don’t you know I have to pay my bills? Don’t you understand that it is impossible to follow Jesus the way the world is now without being an outcast, without suffering financially? Don’t you understand people are already doing all they can without you demanding more? And are we not supposed to have any enjoyment and pleasure in life? You’re telling me Jesus doesn’t want us to be happy?
What I’m saying is that the first commandment of God is this: You shall have no other gods—which means, We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. God is always commanding His servants in the Bible to do things that seem impossible to do without risking their happiness, their good name, even their lives. We heard it in the Old Testament reading. The Lord said to Samuel…Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons. And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me. And the Lord said…I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you. (1 Sam. 16:1-3) And Samuel goes and does what God commands, because he loves the Lord, and he trusts the Lord even though he doesn’t understand.
Yes, God commands us to love Him, fear Him, trust Him above all things. Those who don’t love God above all things are sinners. They provoke Him to anger, real and serious wrath that will burn for eternity. Those who don’t love and trust God above all things are as wicked in His sight as men who dishonor their bodies with other men, as women who murder their infants in their wombs, as those who defraud and rob and steal. We do not become good in God’s sight because we refrain from the grave sins others do. Lack of love for God in your heart means you love someone or something else more than God. When we devise excuses for this in the Church—and we do it so easily, both me and you—we become just what the world accuses us of being: Pharisees.
No, let us admit the painful reality. Just like the world, we don’t love God above all things. When we look at the blind man, who out of love jumps up and follows Jesus, not caring where Jesus is going or what will happen if he follows Jesus, we see in the mirror of his example that we are the grandson who doesn’t respond to the love of his grandmother.
Jesus has done more for each one of us than He did for that blind man. He healed not only our eyes but our entire body and soul. He joined our bodies of dust and ashes to His resurrected, immortal bodies, and renewed our souls when He baptized us. Yet we often say, “Thanks, Jesus! See you in heaven when I get done living my life for myself.”
When we are challenged on this and asked, “Shouldn’t you follow Jesus? Shouldn’t you run to hear His Word when it is offered? Shouldn’t you gladly serve Him in His Church? Shouldn’t you give Him Your life, and follow Him in giving it up for the people He wants you to serve? Shouldn’t you give Him the firstfruits of your wealth so that others can hear the joyful news of salvation? Shouldn’t you use all your strength to see the gospel of Jesus given to other people?” Then we say, “But Jesus is going to be mocked, treated shamefully, to be spit on, to be flogged and nailed to a cross!”
Even if we agree, to our shame, that we should follow Jesus with joy like this man who had been blind, we find that we cannot do so. We look ahead of Jesus and see the cross and suffering. The fear overwhelms our joy.
And the more we are told that we should follow Jesus, that we should do it out of love and not out of compulsion, the more we find that we can’t. Those who are annoyed to be told this become more annoyed and resistant. Those who agree but are afraid become more afraid and less joyful.
This is the terrible reality of original sin. We are born not loving God, and we cannot will ourselves into loving Him. The love of God must come to us from outside into our hearts, and once it has begun to come in, it must continue, and we cannot make this happen.
The grandson who didn’t respond to his grandmother’s love needed not to force himself to act like he loved her. He needed to receive the love that was already there from his grandma. That is the way it is with us and God.
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be mocked, treated shamefully, spat upon, flogged with whips, crucified. He told his disciples this not to scare them, but to cause them to see when it happened that this was no accident. God foretold it centuries before through the prophets. In eternity He planned it, before the world began. It was His will that Jesus should suffer all these things. It was Jesus’ will also. As He pulled His disciples aside and explained it to them again, now for the third time, He saw it coming clearly. He could have avoided it and said, “We’ll go up to Jerusalem next year.” He didn’t do it. He saw it clearly and unmistakeably, and journeyed toward it.
Those were Jesus’ actions, motivated by His will, by the engine of His heart. What powered that engine was this—love. Love for human beings who do not love Him. Love for His enemies, love for His disciples, love for you, love for me. In love He saw us with a clear eye. He saw that our love of ourselves had to be punished by a just God with shame, mockery, physical suffering, with endless spiritual torment.
So He journeyed to Jerusalem to receive it for us—to be treated with contempt. To be mocked and spit on. To have His flesh opened with stripes from the whips. To have His hands and feet pierced and pinned to the cross and be lifted up from the earth as a curse. To cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” To bring to an end God’s anger against us, His righteous condemnation for the lives we have lived for ourselves, spurning His love. And then on the third day to rise again, God declaring our sin paid for in full, God announcing that Jesus and we are no longer in bondage to our sins. He no longer counts them.
Consider the love behind this gift. Meditate on it.
You are not able to stop living for yourself. But Jesus has blotted out the life you live in the flesh. He lived His life on earth in love toward His Father and in love toward you. For His sake the Father’s anger against your life of self-love has ended. For His sake, the Father counts you and all who believe in Jesus not only as if they lived their life following Jesus, for Jesus, but as if you lived Jesus’ life.
As you receive this love of Jesus, which is given to you when His Gospel is preached, when the Scripture is taught, when you read the Bible at home, when you receive the body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament—as you receive His love in these ways, His love is born in you. The death He died for all becomes active in your life. Just as the grandson would have loved his grandmother if he had paid attention and received the love that was behind her gifts, so as you hear the word of the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus’ gift of His life for you, His love will enter your heart and do what it did in the man He healed of blindness. It will cause you to forget yourself and follow Jesus, not out of compulsion, but out of love, with joy.
On Wednesday the season of Lent begins, with its call to baptized Christians to renew the fight against our flesh, with its constant desire to live for ourselves. This fight, in which we exercise our will, is necessary. No one can be a Christian without it. We have to daily drown in Jesus’ death, in which we died in Baptism, the desires, thoughts, and impulses of our flesh that want us to live the old way—for ourselves, in sin, with our hearts denying Jesus’ love, closed to it.
We have to fight. But our fighting, our willing to no longer live for ourselves doesn’t create love. Love comes from seeing the love Jesus has in His heart for you—the love revealed in His joyful willingness to go to Jerusalem, to be treated with contempt, to be spit on, whipped, pierced with nails, and forsaken by God.
In that love we are secure, now and forever. That love has destroyed the life you lived for yourself.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + Kathe Schroeder
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Job 14:1-17, 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, Matthew 27: 33-60
February 25, 2017
“A New World”
Sandi, Ron, John,
All of Kathe’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren,
Her family and friends,
Members of her church family at St. Peter:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s Word for our comfort today comes from all of the readings we just heard, and in particular these words from first Corinthians: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Cor. 15: 22-24)
Beloved in Christ:
In the old version of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism that I had to memorize, the fourth commandment was longer than the one the kids learn now. Honor your father and mother, we learned. But it used to have more, a promise: that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.
I want to start off by saying that I have not seen, in ten years as a pastor, a family that honored their parents (and grandparents) more than you have shown honor to Reiner and Kathe. I have seen quite a few families that loved and honored their parents at St. Peter, don’t get me wrong. But in a day when people no longer do this, your family has been exemplary—even the grandkids. The promise of blessing God attached to the fourth commandment applies to you.
Frequently when loved ones, particularly parents, die, people feel guilt that they did not show enough love and honor to them when they were alive. Perhaps some of you feel this way today. It is true that before God even the best fall short of keeping this commandment like we do all the others. Before God we can’t brag that we have done all that He asks even when we’ve done our best. But God covers our sins; He blots them out with the blood of His Son, and covers us with Jesus’ perfect righteousness, just as now Kathe’s body is covered by a white cloth emblazoned with the cross. She always expressed to me her feeling that God had blessed her and Reiner by giving her children and grandchildren that loved and honored them. So I hope that this will be a comfort to you—your care for Kathe was an example, and wherever you failed, God has covered your failings, just as Kathe’s whole life was covered with the perfect life of Jesus when she was baptized.
Kathe was blessed in many ways in this life, and she always said this when I visited her. She was blessed with a husband that was the love of her life, a gift which is not given to everyone. She was blessed with three children that she loved and that loved her; then with a similar relationship with her grandchildren. She had a beautiful family, a beautiful home. God gave her a good character, an ability to work hard and do good for others, which she passed on to her children and great-grandchildren. Above all, she was blessed in a way that so many are not. She was baptized into Christ as a baby and taught to know Him as her only Savior from her sins and from death. And she remained in this faith which was given to her in baptism until her end.
For all these blessings she received, and for the blessing her life was, we give thanks to God today. You remember her, and you rightly feel grief that this woman, with all of the little things she did, will not be present in the rest of the years of your life on earth. You are right to feel grief about this and even to express it to God. For years when I would come to visit she would make me tea and give me those pieces of sugar that looked like ice; when I put them in the tea they would make cracking noises. She would put a plate of cookies and pastries in front of me. I will remember those times, but I will not experience them again in this life. You have other memories. One that was in her obituary that made me laugh was that she never let her grandkids win at any board games! You have many memories like this, and it is a loss over which it is right to grieve that during the years of this life you will no longer see her or hear her voice.
I say this not to rub it in, but because we try to deny the loss to make the pain go away. But it is in facing the reality of the pain of death that God’s comfort comes to us.
Kathe’s life was filled with a lot of happiness. But in a way it was happiness snatched out of the hand of great powers that loomed over her and the whole world. She had many griefs. She just didn’t talk about those—at least not to me—or dwell on them. Her father died when she was a child, leaving her family in poverty. She was confirmed in 1942, when the world was in the middle of a terrible war and her country was a police state. And when the war was over, it only kind of got better for her country. Half of it came under the control of another police state from the other side of the political spectrum. The world sat on the brink of a much worse war in which the whole world could be destroyed. No one was sure when that might happen. And Germany was right on the border.
People kept on living. They got married, like Kathe and Reiner, and started families. Yet it could have all come crashing down. They were lucky and moved to the United States where it was a little safer.
But even now, this world is under the control of dark authorities and powers. We live in their shadows. It is the darkness of the shadow of death. In this world, God appears remote and absent. When we want to come near to Him, there is a barrier—that in thought, word, and deed, we break His commands. Pain, sickness, and hardship come to all of us, and also death. And for many people, at many times, the sense arises that these bad things are happening to us because God is against us. People don’t say this usually, but the feeling lingers.
That was what Job was saying in the first reading we heard. Why do you keep such close watch on my sins, God, he asks, that you are punishing me so intensely? I’m only on earth a little while—then I’m gone. I was born in sin, and when I have done my best, I still am a sinner in your sight. He expresses longing that God would bury his sins forever, deal with him as a father, give him life in place of the death that comes as a result of sin.
Then we heard another apparently depressing reading. Jesus was led out to “the place of the skull” and crucified. And while he hung on the cross by nails in his hands and feet, Jesus cried out in agony, My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? A few hours later He let out a loud cry and gave up His spirit in death.
Then something happened that doesn’t usually happen. The earth shook. Rocks split open. The curtain in the temple that closed off the holy of holies, the place where God dwelt on earth, ripped from the top to the bottom. Almost unbelievably, graves were opened and a bunch of holy people who had died rose and appeared to many people. The event was so overwhelming that even one of the Roman soldiers who was there, who probably didn’t believe in the God of the Jews, said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”
This was not an ordinary, natural event. Jesus was and is the Son of God. When He died, God tasted death. The punishment of death, the penalty for rebellion against the God who made us, was experienced by God. Jesus took our sins as His; and He took the punishment for them. He experienced being forsaken by God. He died. And the result was—the earth shook, as if the world itself was being moved, changed. The way into God’s presence was made open. The dead rose to life again. The dark powers that have controlled the world were thrown down. And the way was paved for a new world to being—a world in which there is no death, where God is near, and the darkness over our world and in our hearts becomes light.
That all happened in a moment when Jesus died. But then everything seemed to return to normal. Jesus was taken down off the cross and buried, just like everyone else. That seemed like the end.
You know what comes next. If not, Paul reminds us. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Even though the world seemed like it had gone back to normal, to darkness and death, it had not. Things had changed. Jesus rose from the dead; his followers came out on Sunday and found an empty tomb. Then He appeared to them, told them what was going to happen next, and forty days later ascended to heaven.
What was going to happen next was His disciples would go out into the world and proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. They would also say what this means. It means that the sins Jesus carried on the cross have been paid for. God released Jesus from them into resurrection and eternal life. And everyone who believes this shares in Jesus’ release from sin and death and His eternal life.
People often say to grieving friends, “Don’t worry; she is in a better place.” For those who die believing in Christ this is true. But people seldom believe that this world will be the better place.
Jesus is the firstfruits. He rose from the dead. And all the people He died for will also rise from the dead in the same way when He returns.
It will be a new and better world. It won’t be a world where our happiness comes in the shadow of the powers of darkness that run this world, where we enjoy what we can while we can, and God seems far away. It will be a world where the powers of darkness are thrown out forever, and the darkness of our hearts is also gone, and God will be all in all.
Kathe became a citizen of this new world in 1927 when she was brought to the baptismal font in Firrel, Germany. She was baptized into the risen Jesus, with His righteousness, life, and victory over death. Her sins were forgiven. That is why now the Easter candle burns in front of her body. The life of Jesus, risen from the dead, became her life. The perfect righteousness of Jesus, and His atonement for the sins of the world, was drawn over her infant life. Today it still covers her like the white pall with the cross covering the casket. We do not know what she will look like when the day of resurrection comes exactly. We know that just like the image of Adam was on her when she suffered, when she got old, when she died, the image of Jesus will be evident in her body when she rises—the image of righteousness, joy, victory, everlasting life. There will, beyond all shadow of a doubt, be a smile on her face—of gratitude, of joy, of victory.
Jesus died and rose again and claimed the whole world—all people who share His flesh and blood—to live in that new world. You as well—whoever you are, whatever you have done, whatever you believe. Everyone is in, no one is out, except those who refuse to be in, who won’t believe it, who insist on their right to remain in the darkness, in the shadow of the dark powers running the world now. He claimed you with His blood, and when you were baptized He put on you the garments of righteousness of the new world that He will reveal when He returns. Don’t throw it away. Daily take off the old clothing of slavery and death and put on, by faith, the new man, risen from the dead.
That is where we get peace and strength to live in this world where the darkness overshadows us. We receive the life of Jesus—in His Word, in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, in the sacrament of His body and His blood given and shed for us on the cross. We receive in those things the assurance that we belong to Him and His new world which enables us to come near to God without fear and ask for the strength and peace we need to continue until the day when we will no longer be without the visible presence of our loved ones who have died in Christ—the day when we will see Kathe and Reiner, happy forever—and when we will see the God who made and redeemed them and us, face to face.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 8:4-15
Feb. 19, 2017
“Broken Hearts are Good Soil”
The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth. LSB 656 st 4
Surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever (Is. 40:7-8). Jesus’ parable this morning reveals the mystery of how the eternal Word of God is given to us, who are otherwise grass that withers and fades.
Jesus preaches to the great crowd that has gathered to him from cities all around that the Word of God is spread like seed when a farmer goes out in the spring and sows his fields.
But Jesus doesn’t explain this to the crowd. He just tells them a story about a sower casting seed into the field. Most of the seed lands somewhere where it doesn’t grow up into a crop. Then Jesus calls out, He who has hears, let him hear!
Only to His disciples does Jesus explain the meaning of his story. To you it has been given to know [or understand] the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for others it is in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah, who tells how he saw God in the temple and the seraphim flying around His throne singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth!” Then, says Isaiah:
I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing,[c] but do not understand; keep on seeing,[d] but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull,[e] and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Wait! God told Isaiah to preach His Word so that they would not understand it? So they would not turn to God and be saved?
That’s what it says; and Jesus says that’s why He preached a parable to the crowd—so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand.
That’s not very loving, is it? What it is is a terrifying warning about the consequences of “not having ears to hear.” The consequences of taking lightly the Word of God, of ignoring it, of valuing it less than other things, of treating it as if it is only the word of men. God may cause those who hear His Word but do not listen to it to no longer be able to listen to it, understand it, and be saved by it.]
Then Jesus goes on to explain His parable to His disciples. The seed, He says, is the Word of God.
Why does Jesus tell a parable about proclaiming and preaching God’s Word? It isn’t as if God’s Word was never preached before Jesus came. It’s not new. God sent prophets to proclaim His Word since the beginning of the world.
But there is something new here. God sent the prophets to proclaim His promise that salvation would come for the world in the future. The seed of a woman would crush the head of the ancient serpent; the offspring or seed of Abraham would bring blessing, salvation to all the nations of the earth to replace the curse that all human beings were under. The descendant of Abraham, born of a woman, would bring God’s Kingdom to the earth. Satan would no longer control us. In place of sin ruling in human hearts there would be righteousness; instead of death there would be eternal life. Instead of God being absent from us and angry with us, God would dwell in the midst of us and have pleasure in us.
That is what God told His people through the prophets would happen in the future. But Jesus proclaimed and preached: that day is now. Now forgiveness of sins is happening. Satan is being cast down. Death is being overcome. Sinners are declared righteous. God is present with and pleased with all who believe this good news.
That was and is the Word of God that Jesus preached and still preaches, which endures forever. But there is something else amazing and mysterious about this Word of God.
You know the story of creation. When God wanted to create the world, He didn’t get out a plumb line, a saw, a hammer and some nails. He spoke. And nothing disobeyed His Word. The light didn’t say, “No, I won’t shine.” The waters didn’t say, “I don’t want to be gathered together and let the dry land appear.” When God spoke, creation obeyed. God’s Word is omnipotent, almighty. What God speaks happens.
But when God speaks to human beings, it’s different. God allows His almighty Word to be resisted and rejected by human beings, who were made out of dirt. He says, “You are forgiven and saved,” yet many people say, “No.” Or more likely they say nothing, because they aren’t listening. Or laugh and say, “Listen to that fanatic, that crazy fool,” or “This has been going on for 17 and a half minutes already.”
And so it happens that God’s almighty, eternal Word that gives pardon from sin, brings God into our hearts, saves us from being damned forever on the day of judgment gets sidelined, thrown into a closet in the Church, rejected.
Jesus says God’s Word is a seed. When it is sown, when it is thrown onto ears and hearts through preaching, it lands in many ears and hearts where it is not permitted to do what it is meant to do. It is meant to fall into the ear canal and find its way into the heart. There it will grow up like a plant into eternal life and joy and with it bring fruit to the praise of God—much fruit, a hundredfold.
The Word is the Word of Jesus; it brings Him and His full atonement for our sins, accomplished in His death in our place on the cross, where God’s anger against not listening to His Word and believing it was poured out in full on Him. In those who hear and believe is planted the death and forgiveness of their sins. Where this is planted in the heart, the Holy Spirit who is present in the seed of the Word causes a new life to grow in our hearts that were formed from dirt. In the midst of these bodies of dust and ash which rebel against God, love self more than our neighbor, the life of Jesus grows. We begin to love God, desire His Word, find comfort and pleasure in it; we trust Him and call on Him with confidence that He will hear and help, and we begin to seek our neighbor’s good—his well-being here on earth and in spiritual things.
But Jesus says this doesn’t happen in most people to whom God’s Word comes. Many people have hearts like the hard-packed dirt of a footpath, made rock-hard by the weight of many feet. They hear the Word of God, but it never enters their heart. It just lies there on the top of the hard crust of their hearts. They don’t understand it, and even if they do, they don’t put their trust in the message it proclaims. Then the demons swoop in and take the Word of God away. If our eyes were open to this, we would see how every Sunday morning demons descend on so many hearers of God’s Word like crows and grackles to take away God’s Word from their hearts.
Others receive God’s Word and believe with joy for a time. They hear that salvation is accomplished, finished by Jesus, and they rejoice. But beneath the soil at the surface of their hearts is rock that prevents the Word of God from taking deep root. God’s Word is planted, but it gets no moisture. The seed is not watered; they do not continue to hear and learn the Word of God. They may keep hearing it, but it doesn’t get in; they don’t acknowledge their need for ongoing daily repentance and renewal. So when it gets hot and they are tested by suffering or persecution, the new life of faith dies.
And then there are those among whom God’s Word takes root and grows, but alongside it also grow the weeds of worry about this life, the desire for wealth and pleasure here on earth. These weeds are not pulled out. They are there in the heart with God’s Word—worry, love of wealth and pleasure. And the Word of God is not able to grow with these things. It grows stunted, sickly, fruitless. The Word of God in their hearts becomes knowledge that produces no fruit—in essence, another weed.
There is only one kind of soil, one kind of heart, that receives God’s Word to salvation—the good soil, the noble and good heart. Hearts that are not packed down and hardened against God’s Word; hearts that are not rocky and unwilling to continue in daily repentance for sin and renewal by God’s Word; hearts that are not divided by obsession with the worries and pleasures of this life.
In this parable Jesus is comforting future preachers, who will experience how few people seem to receive the Word of God, continue with it, and bear fruit. But He is also calling us to examine ourselves, to ask ourselves, How do I receive God’s Word? Do I bring forth fruit that testifies that my faith in Jesus is living and genuine?
It is a question that requires serious attention from us and honest self-examination. It is a question that Jesus brings before us not to kill us, but to save us. And this self-examination will have this effect on nearly everyone who honestly does it, as they prepare to receive the body and blood of Jesus each week—we will be disturbed. At how often we fall into the same sins—perhaps at how we live in those sins without repentance, bearing fruit for the devil. And at how little of the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, thankfulness and praise to God we bear. How little we endure suffering without complaining, trusting in God; how little we can endure mistreatment from other people and still love them.
This kind of disturbance is good, if it is excited by the Holy Spirit and not by our own efforts to feel the right way. We are not born good soil to receive God’s Word. We can’t make ourselves good soil either. It is God’s work.
But what makes a heart “noble and good” is conviction of sin that makes us hunger and thirst for forgiveness and the freedom to bear fruit for God. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled, said Jesus. The poor sinner who is terrified of his sins, who runs to Jesus continually for forgiveness and help, and believes that He will help, He says has “a noble and good heart.” Such a sinner is glad to receive Jesus’ help, glad to confess his sins and be absolved, comes to Jesus wherever Jesus is planting and watering. This is why a long time ago I tried to teach about the benefit of private confession and absolution. I was speaking from my experience, and echoing another teacher who also knew what it was to be terrified at his lack of fruitfulness. He wrote:
Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the Pope’s command at any point, but you will force yourself to go and ask me that you may share in it…If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles to confession, not under compulsion, but rather coming and compelling us to offer it…Therefore, when I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. For those who really want to be upright Christians and free from their sins, and who want to have a joyful conscience, truly hunger and thirst already. They snatch at the bread, just like a hunted deer, burning with heat and thirst, as Psalm 42 says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”
That’s what Martin Luther thought about confession.
But God is so gracious that both the seed of His Word and the flowing streams that water it and make it grow in our heart don’t come to us in only one way. He plants the Word in our heart in Baptism and in teaching His Word; He waters it through preaching, teaching, and His Holy Supper.
In all these things, He tells us the joyful news—your sins have been taken away by my blood. You are liberated from death and Satan. It has happened as surely as I died, was buried, and rose again. All who receive this eternal Word with noble and good hearts that hunger and thirst for forgiveness and desire to bear fruit to God will find that this Word will not return to God empty or in vain—in this world or on the day of judgment.
Soli Deo Gloria