[Sorry, I forgot my voice recorder]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s obvious that there is a problem in the parable Jesus tells. What is the problem? Why is it that some seed falls on certain ground where it bears no fruit; and some falls on other ground where it bears fruit 30 or 60 or 100 times more? Usually, the first place we look for a problem is at the soil. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong with the seed, so the problem must be in the soil. And that’s part of the answer, unless we let it deceive us into thinking that this parable is instructing us on how not to be bad soil, or if we are bad soil, how to be better soil. Jesus’ parables are never about how you ought to improve yourself. They are always about what God is doing in Jesus. They may include things about us, about sinners, about the world, but the main point is always about God. What makes this parable more difficult is that we’ve left out the verses in between the parable and the explanation Jesus gives. The disciples of Jesus ask Him why He speaks to the crowds in parables. We’re used to thinking of parables as folksy illustrations meant to clarify something about God. And they do that, but not always. Jesus tells His disciples that He speaks in parables to the crowds who are more and more opposed to Him. There are more and more who refuse to hear Him; more and more, the leaders of Israel are plotting to get rid of Him. So He says, “The meaning of the parables is not given to the crowds, but to you it has been given.”
He speaks in parables because only those who trust Him are given to understand them. There is no understanding, there is no sight, there is no hearing unless God grants it. So there is no good soil until God grants it. There is no good fruit until God grants it. None of us is a fertile field, full of perfect understanding and faith, free from the devil, or the cross, or the cares of the world. With us, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. If it’s not the devil snatching up faith before it sprouts, it’s the constant bearing of the cross, the Spirit and the flesh squared off in us, as we’ve been hearing the past few weeks from Paul’s letter to the Romans; or, it’s the more and more apparent hatred directed at those who bear the name of Christ, unless such Christianity fits into the world’s categories of what is good and right and acceptable religion. And if it’s not the cross, it’s the cares of this life. I suspect, for most of us, here and now, in this part of the world, that’s where our struggle is. Raising children, making a living, filling our time with hobbies, activities, games, recreation. These are the weeds that can, if given room, choke out the hearing of the Word of God. They aren’t evil, some of them are even rather pretty weeds, like wildflowers. But they can very easily crowd out the Word of God, which is the only plant that bears fruit for eternity. You know the sort of soil in your heart. Simply follow the furrows of your week. What gets plowed and what gets left alone. What sort of acreage does the Word of God occupy? No need to justify, no need to pad the figures. Just repent. There is no good earth; there is no heart in which the Word of God naturally finds a home.
But still the sower sows. And look how carelessly! How indiscriminately! He utterly disregards all the laws of agriculture. At the very least, He’s wasting a lot of seed. Jesus tells His disciples not to cast their pearls before swine, and here God casts His Word onto the road where demonic ravens to eat it up. He just throws it right into the weeds, and onto the shallowest soil, into the very places that deserve it least. Sometimes it sprouts, and sometimes it doesn’t; but the real difference is between the first three places and the good soil. Finally the difference is not in what way the Word of God dies, whether by the devil, or persecution, or the cares of the world; but between the seed that does not bear fruit and the seed that does. It’s the same division Jesus always makes—or, rather, the same division that is always made over Jesus—between those who believe and those who don’t. From those who do not have faith that clings to Christ, even what they have will be taken, snatched up, eaten, choked out, wither and die. But to those who have faith that clings to Christ, much more will be given; an abundance, bearing fruit, and eternally alive.
Because God’s Word always does what He sends it out to do, as God says through the prophet Isaiah. But still we have a problem, if we identify the wrong Word of God in Isaiah 55. Because it is abundantly clear to us that not all the seed grows and bears fruit. If the Word here is the Word of God in general, simply the proclamation of the Gospel about Jesus, and if God wants all people to be saved, why aren’t they? If that’s the goal, then isn’t God not quite telling the truth? His Word doesn’t always accomplish salvation, does it? Well, yes, but not as the Word generically; only as the Word made flesh. God spoke, in the beginning, through the Word, and all things were made. He said it, and it was. Later, God spoke His Word into flesh in the Virgin, and He was. And God sent His Word into the flesh with a very specific purpose: accomplish the redemption and restoration of His once-good creation. A rescue operation from within. And what God sent this Word to do, He did. He sowed His Word right into the weeds, right into the gravel, right into the shallow soil that would reject Him. He sowed Jesus into the very place He knew it would die; it was His will to crush Him. “For the seed of His Word is packed with the flesh and blood of the Son, the Son dead and risen for you. It is packed with the life of the One who once was packed with your sin and death; packed with the bloody love of the One who chose to endure sacrifice rather than endure eternity without you; chose to be devoured by the demons, strangled by the weeds of justice, buried in the earth, that He might have and keep you as His own” (Chad Bird). There is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus, because God condemned sin on the cross in the flesh of His Son. Now you and I can call Him Father and His Spirit bears witness with ours that we have received sonship, though we were nothing but slaves to sin. Like rain and snow come down from heaven, He continues to be preached and given in every place, to each new generation. He is scattered over all people, and some of the seed has fallen on your heart. Instead of thorns choking out His Word, He grows a cypress; instead of briers, fit for burning, He grows myrtles. He makes blind eyes see, and deaf ears hear. He crushes hard hearts of stone and gives new hearts of flesh. He gives dull minds understanding into His ways, as we see Jesus more and more. He takes gravelly, thorn- and weed-infested land and makes it good soil. He doesn’t sow where the soil is fit for the seed; He sows the seed that makes the soil good. And then, it multiplies: more seed for the sowers, thrown out to anyone and everyone. More bread for the eaters, the Body of Christ scattered into a million mouths. Never a lack, never running out, never not enough.
The hearers will hear, the seers will see, and the faithful will live. You who have been given ears, hear. You bear the Name of Yahweh, and the sign of the Church in the world will never be cut off, not by the devil, not by persecution and struggle, not by the cares of this world. Not all believe, but there are always believers. Not all bear fruit, but there is always fruit. Not all believe Jesus, but soon Jesus will be all in all.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/12/14