The farmers in this congregation and in my previous congregation have told me about some amazing technology that is now available on farm equipment. In essence, a lot of the machinery can drive itself. Harvesting equipment can monitor the yield as it works its way through a field. In turn, other equipment can use that yield data to meter out fertilizer and other chemicals in precise amounts in order to produce the best yield in the next crop.
The whole point of this technology is for the farmer to do what all businesses want to do … get the best return on investment. You want to invest in seed, equipment, fertilizers, and other chemicals so that you get the most cost-effective yield. On the other hand, you don’t want to waste any of your investment.
First century farmers in Israel didn’t have all the technology that we have today, but they still wanted to get the most they could from their investment. They would make sure that all the seed they sowed fell on good soil. They would avoid throwing seed on hard packed roads, rocky ground, or thorns. They wanted all the seed to produce a good crop.
This morning, we heard Jesus tell a parable about a different kind of sower. The people who heard Jesus tell the parable would say that the sower was very careless. Some seeds fell along the path, other seeds fell on rocky ground, and still other seeds fell among thorns. (Matthew 13:4–7) This sower is sowing the seed everywhere.
Later, Jesus took the disciples aside and explained the parable. The seed is hearing the Word of God. The careless sower indicates God’s generosity and His mercy. The proclamation of the Word of God is for all people in all places and times. [God our Savior] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4) The careless sower could be anyone who shares the Word of God. It could be an apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, the head of a household, or even just one friend sharing God’s Word with another. In each case Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit will be at work when the sower shares the Word of God. The teaching of the parable is that those who proclaim God’s Word are generous with it. They throw the Word of God everywhere.
Different people, though, respond differently when they hear the Word of God. That is the main illustration of the parable. Jesus broke the response into four different categories … the well-travelled path, the rocky ground, the thorny ground, and the good earth.
Jesus began with those who simply reject the Word. He said, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. (Matthew 13:19) Although God wants to save everyone, there are those who reject the Word and resist the Holy Spirit. They remain in unbelief and under God’s judgment by their own fault. Eventually, God allows the devil to take the Word away from them. They have hardened their heart against the work of the Holy Spirit by simply refusing to believe.
The hardened soil of the path reminds us that there is a real battle going on for the lives of men, women, and children. Satan makes it his business to take the Word of the Kingdom away from us. This was his strategy at the beginning. Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) The evil one’s first words to Eve replaced God’s Word with doubt. Already, the evil one was coming and snatching away the Word that was sown in Eve’s heart. The hardened soil and the birds represent the devil snatching the Word and taking it away from us.
Then there is the rocky soil. At first the effect of the Word on the rocky soil seems hopeful, but then tragedy strikes. Jesus said, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20–21) Here the seed produces results for a while. This type of person receives the word with joy. He joins a local congregation. He may even become quite active. Then something comes along to test the faith and he falls away.
The rocky soil really bothers me. Over the half century since I was confirmed, I have seen the church in North America and Europe promote the rocky soil. Very often the reason that many church-goers do not have deep roots in the Word is that the leaders of the church do not provide opportunities that grow those roots. Many, many congregations have grown by focusing on marketing … fun and entertainment. Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with fun and entertainment in their proper place. However, too many congregations have focused so hard on fun and entertainment that they forgot to proclaim the truth of the Word of God. At first, they grew like gangbusters, but then came a challenge and they fell apart. It is just as Jesus said. [They endure] for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately [they fall] away. The church in North America and Europe has a lot of repenting to do. I pray that they get back to proclaiming the Word so that their members can once again have roots that go deep into the Word of God.
The third scenario illustrates a similar tragedy. Jesus said, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22) Once again, the seed sprouts. Once again, this type of person joins a local congregation. The problem here is that the cares of this world are more important than the Word of the kingdom. A late party on Saturday night or even late-night television is more important than being rested up enough to receive God’s Divine Service. County fairs, Athletic contests, and other extra-curricular activities are more important than Bible class or family devotions. Basically, there are so many things to do in this world that God’s Word becomes an afterthought instead of a priority. The thorns represent the world enticing us away from the salvation proclaimed in the Word of the Kingdom.
The last type of soil illustrates the fruit that God’s Word can bear. Jesus said, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:23) This time, the roots of God’s Word run deep. It thrives and produces a harvest. In fact, the numbers that Jesus used are miraculous yields for that time and place.
Notice though, that even the good soil is dead until God’s Word takes root in it. The power comes from God and He uses His Word to distribute that power. God works in us as we read or hear the Word. He brings us into His family as that very same Word combines with the water of Holy Baptism to join us to Christ in His crucifixion. He sustains and strengthens our faith with the Word combined with bread and wine as He offers Himself to us in His body and blood. These are the Means of Grace whereby God works the power of His Word in us.
Jesus makes it very clear in this parable that it is the deep roots of the seed that produce the fruit. Then He tells us that the seed is the Word of the Kingdom and the roots are the understanding of that Word. Therefore, when Jesus talks about the depth of the roots, He is talking about the depth of our understanding of the Word of the Kingdom. He is also talking about the effect that the Holy Spirit has as He works through that Word.
When the roots of the Word of the Kingdom run deep in us, we see that all of Scripture points us to the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. The Word of the Kingdom reveals the Holy Life of the Savior – a life that He lived in our place because we cannot keep the law of God. The Word of the Kingdom reveals the Holy Death of the Savior – a death that satisfies God’s holy and righteous justice against our sin. The Word of the Kingdom reveals the Resurrection of the Savior – a resurrection that assures us that the Holy life and innocent death of the Savior were accepted as payment in full for all our sins.
The devil, the world, and our own sinful nature want to drive us away from our savior. Their first step in alienating us from God is the same now as it was in Eden: “Did God actually say?” They constantly strive to prevent the growth of the roots of the Word. They constantly make the case against regular church attendance and regular Bible study. When we think it is not important to be theologians of the Word of the Kingdom, we are playing right into the devil’s hand. That is exactly what he wants … humans who are weak because the Word of the Kingdom has not put deep roots into their hearts.
Jesus encourages us with the words, “9He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:9) Hearing is how the Holy Spirit gives understanding to us … how He causes the Word of the Kingdom to grow deep into our hearts. Hearing is how the Holy Spirit reveals the salvation of Jesus Christ to us. It is as we heard in the Old Testament reading: “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, 11 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 55:10–11) May the Word of the Kingdom dwell and grow deep in your hearts. Amen
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