In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I. Belief or Unbelief
1. There are two categories of people in this world: those who believe in Jesus and those who do not believe in Jesus. The world would try to teach us that there are an infinite number of categories: black or white, male or female, gay or straight, young or old, sports enthusiast or book worm. The world would try to teach us that these categories and so many more are what matter. They try to teach us that these are what define a person. But God’s Word constantly exhorts us to think differently. “Do not be conformed to this world,” the apostle Paul says in Romans, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The world is right in that there are many facets which define who a person is in this world. But ultimately, the world’s categories don’t matter. That is to say, when judgement day comes, the ultimate test will not be your ethnicity, your preferred hobby, or any other worldly category. On judgement day, the only categories that matter are whether you believe in Jesus or not. As the apostle John tells us in the Revelation, it is those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14) who will stand in the great multitude on that day. Do you believe in Jesus or not? These are the only categories which truly matter. And these are the categories in which the parable of the sower invites us to think.
2. In our Lord’s parable, the seed of God’s Word is sown indiscriminately across a variety of surfaces. Some seed fell upon the path, some on the rock, some among thorns, and some fell into good soil. It might be tempting, then, to see these as representing four categories of people. But they do not. There are only two categories of people. The seed that fell upon the path, on the rock, and among the thorns all represent the same category of person—those who do not believe in Jesus. The distinctions within this category, then, are not eternal distinctions. Our Lord makes distinction between these three types of seed so that we Christians might be warned against the ways in which the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh tempt us to abandon our first love (Revelation 2:4) and to forsake belief in Christ. This is why we Christians ought to heed this parable—because it warns us of the ways in which Satan attacks us so that we might become aware of how to resist him.
II. The Seed that Fell…
3. First, we are told of the seed that fell upon the path. These are the people who, according to our Lord, have heard the Word of God, but “then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). In today’s Old Testament Reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us that “[God’s Word] shall accomplish that which [He] purpose[s], and shall succeed in the thing for which [He] sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). How is it, then, that the devil is able to snatch away from those who have heard it the almighty Word of the all-powerful God? Surely Satan is not more powerful than the Lord. And he is not. Satan cannot take God’s Word from you on his own. God’s Word accomplishes His purposes. And yet, He allows humans the dignity to reject that Word. And so, holding in tension the mystery of the interplay between God’s sovereignty and human free will, we must take very seriously the reality that Satan can tempt you to shift your focus from the almighty Word of God to the trivial, meaningless things of this world. The danger being warned of by the seed that fell upon the path is that the devil will seek to tempt us to dismiss God’s Word in favor of—well, literally anything else. He will seek to highlight supposed conflicts in the biblical text or inconsistencies in the lives of God’s people as supposed evidence that God’s Word is not true. It is Satan’s goal to convince you to dismiss God and His Word.
4. Then there is the seed that fell on the rock. These are the people who, according to our Lord, “hear the Word [and] receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away” (Luke 8:13). God’s Word is uprooted from the hearts of these people because they have no solid foundation of faith. So long as belief is easy, they endure. However, true endurance involves persevering through both the good times and the bad, with eyes and mind focused on the singular goal. And so, in a very real sense, the true downfall of those represented by the seed that fell on the rock is a failure to maintain that singular focus. The danger being warned of by the seed that fell on the rock is that the devil will seek to distract us from God’s Word. He will use any medium that he can, good or evil, to achieve this. He will seek to distract you with the temptation of work, of family, of television, of social media, or of anything else he can find, good or ill. It is Satan’s goal to distract you from faith and God’s Word by whatever means necessary.
5. Finally, there is the seed that fell among thorns. These are the people who, according to our Lord, “hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). God’s Word is choked from the hearts of these people because their priorities are all wrong. They do not recognize that God’s Word is both the source of life and that which sustains our life in an ongoing way. And so, they allow their priorities to become mixed up. God’s Word is displaced by that which seems significant, but is really trivial and meaningless. The danger being warned of by the seed that fell among the thorns is that the devil will seek to tempt us to displace God’s Word in our lives. Will it really hurt me if I go one day without reading my Bible? Will I really notice a difference if I skip my prayer time this morning? God is forgiving. And, after all, I am in a hurry. And so, one day turns into two and three and four, and before we know it, we are staring down the face of those wretched thorns which seek to choke the life-giving Word of God out of us.
6. And then there is the seed that fell into good soil. These are the people who, according to our Lord, “hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). God’s Word produces an enduring faith for these individuals. And so, the all-important question is, what distinguishes these men from the others who fell away and do not believe? Both groups received the Word, so what causes the differing outcomes? Our Lord suggests that an honest and good heart are a part of it, but this only raises the question of how one cultivates or maintains such a heart. The real difference between those who believe and those who spurn their faith is found in our Lord’s words “hold it fast.” To hold fast to God’s Word is to cling to it when distraction comes around or when temptation to dismiss or displace it arises. The warning being offered by the seed that fell into good soil is that only the one who holds fast God’s Word will endure.
III. The Lord Sows His Word through the Scriptures
7. My friends, this is the distinction between faith and unbelief, between eternal life and eternal damnation. It is in the written pages of Holy Scripture that the almighty God has chosen to reveal the truth of salvation to poor sinners like you and me. In these sacred pages, He reveals all that He has done for us. He is the sower who sows the seed of His Word indiscriminately to all who will listen. He knows that some seed will fall upon the path and be dismissed. He knows that some of the seed will fall on the rock and distractions will take its place. He knows that some of the seed will fall among the thorns and be displaced. And yet, for the sake of the good soil, He continues to sow the seed indiscriminately because this is how good soil is cultivated. Through His continual sowing of the Word, the Lord works in your heart to till and weed, to remove stones and spread fertilizer so that your heart becomes good soil ready to receive the Word. Soil doesn’t make itself good. The sower, working as a gardener, makes the soil good through hard, continual labor. And it is this hard, continued labor which our Lord seeks to do in your heart through the working of the Holy Spirit each time you hear His Word. Sure, there is a certain amount of effort required on your part to pay attention to the Scripture readings or the sermon, so that your attention might not drift and that you might discern what is being said and apply it to your life. But the real work is what the Lord is doing in your heart through that Word. Through the proclamation of His Word, the Lord is the gardener who tills and prepares the soil of your heart. He is the sower who gives you the Word. And He is the one who causes faith to grow in your heart. So, take heart, my friends. This is what He is doing now for you. So, hear and receive His gift of eternal life offered to you this and every day through His Word.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.