February 24, 2019
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
Jesus speaks to us in His parable, revealing to us what the reign of heaven is like, how things are in the world are. You see, things weren’t going quite right in Israel; even Jesus’ family isn’t with Him. How can people who saw Jesus face to face not believe in Him? How can people hear that Jesus has died for them, to save them from their sins, and they just don’t care? Why some and not others? These are questions we’ve all had. And this parable is Jesus’ answer.
The disciples, and the church as a whole, are to preach the Gospel of Christ to all the world. As this happens, they would encounter these four kinds of ground, these four kinds of reactions to the Gospel. Some hearers will be like the hard, bare road, and the preaching yields nothing because the seed is not allowed to even begin growing. Some are like the rocky soil, and preaching will be heard at first, but the faith will quickly wither. Some are in the middle of thorns – the cares, riches, and pleasures of this world – which choke out the life generated by the Gospel. Some are the good soil, the preaching takes root and miraculous fruit results. The Sower sows in 4 places, and 3 out of those 4 produce no lasting results. Most of where God’s Word falls simply doesn’t bear fruit. But what does bear fruit, bears it in extraordinary ways.
We can’t help but ask, why are only some given ears to hear and understand Jesus’ parables? Why do some see but not see, hear but not understand? Why do only some bear fruit for the harvest? The easy answer is that the differences have to do within people. Too often we hear, “Don’t be like the rocky ground, or let the thorns choke out your faith.” But we don’t need to ask which ground is ours, for we may resemble all. There are no hearts that are good by nature. We are all equally sinful and corrupt. The hearts that are good have been made that way the plowing of God’s grace, by His deepening of our shallow soil, by His persistent and consistent working in our lives. The receptivity and the fertility of the ground is pure Gospel gift. This parable isn’t about the ground, but it is about the seed, which is the Word of God. Within the seed itself lies the promise and the power of life. The only answer given is that the mystery is according to God’s good pleasure.
While it could be easy to be discouraged by this parable, the main focus of Jesus’ parable is on the miraculously abundant growth and fruit. By God’s grace in the promise of the seed to grow, the promise is that preaching the Word of God will be successful. No matter how grime, no matter how things may look at times, there will always be those who hear the Word of God in faith, who come to Baptism and feast on the body and blood Christ. These will be present at the heavenly feast and will bear abundant fruit. The kingdom, though hidden at times, will always triumph. The Word of God that goes out from His mouth will not return empty.
There’s a story I once heard about an Anglican missionary in an island off the south pacific. He lived there for 23 years and never converted a person. WWI was about to break out, he didn’t know if he would be able to leave ever again, and a ship was coming for him. He had all his stuff on the boat, when the son of the chief’s wife came to him begging him to see his mother, who was on her death bed. She never liked him and was often very mean towards him. Reluctantly, he went to her side until she died, refusing to believe in Jesus even then. When the missionary got back to the beach, the ship was gone. A few months later, he was able to catch another ship back to England.
In 1943, U.S. marines landed on the island. They were armed and ready for a fight because they believed that this was a listening post for the Japanese. But when they got there, the whole island was out to greet them. The chief, who was that boy who convinced the missionary to stay for his mother, said to the marines, “We greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It shocked the marines, needless to say.
What had happened is that after the missionary left, the boy was so impressed with the devotion of the missionary, and his willingness to sacrifice all those years and what could have been his only chance to go home, the he picked up one of the many Bibles was left and began to read the Word for the first time. Through this, he was converted and then brought Jesus to rest of his people. One seed fell on good soil, and a whole island began to bear fruit. The missionary never knew about this because he had died in 1934, and he now rests from his labors with all those who have heard and believed.
And this is extremely important, significant and practical for us here today. The Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for you has been sown within you and all around you. Some you will not see the fruit. The great Sower of the Word hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t abandoned you. He is still working here, tilling up repentance and providing living-giving water from the Spirit. God has not lost control, even though some refuse to believe, some stop believing and their faith is choked out, and some have Satan snatch their faith away. God is just as careless throwing the Word around by your lips as He has ever been. The Word does accomplish what God intends it to do regardless of our own inadequacies, our own failures, our own times of fruitlessness.
There will be obstacles, make no mistake. When people reject the Word of God, it will not grow. There is the danger of the sinful world and the devil, who stomps upon and snatches the seed of faith up before it can take root and grow. The devil, temptations, trials and the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life are the chief barriers that keep the crowds who hear the Word from believing and becoming a miraculous yield. Hold fast to the Word you have heard and received. Bear fruit of faith with patience.
This is the reason for living in a community that regularly hears the Word of God and gathers around Jesus. Jesus is the exemplar of the good soil who withstood the temptations of the devil, overcame the temptations of the world, and shunned the temptations of the flesh. He is the one whose heart is honest and good. But He is far more than the model. He is the one who makes possible the response of faith and bearing of fruit. Those who bear fruit a hundredfold do so because Christ is in them and they are in Him. Those who hold fast to the Word in perseverance do so because He faithfully holds them in His hand and keeps them steadfast in the one true faith.