Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sermon on Luke 8:4-15, for Sexagesima Sunday, "Faith in Honest and Good Hearts"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The Parable of the Sower that Jesus tells today is the first of a great series of parables in the Gospel of Luke, and describes two basic reactions to His parables. He says in verse 10, before explaining the parable, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” You see, believers will hear and understand the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for unbelievers, they will actually confound them and they won’t understand. This is not just a matter of whether you “get it” or not right away—the disciples didn’t get the parable—but they asked questions to learn more. They were hearing the Word with “honest and good hearts”. Others tuned out or ignored the Word. This parable shows us why sometimes the Word of God is sown like a seed, and it grows and bears fruit—and why other times it sprouts, but never grows to maturity in a person.
The parable tells of four types of soil—the hard path, the rocky soil, thorny soil, and good soil. Now stop and think for a moment…since the Bible tells us that humans judge by appearances, but God judges by the heart…what mistake do you think we will often make? That we can judge who is “good soil” or who is not! We make all kinds of wrong judgements about people by outward appearances, and we must remember that only God sees all hearts, and knows who will or won’t receive His Word. Also, one of the minor points of the parable is about the generosity or liberality of the sower, who scatters the seed over all the types of soil—not picking and choosing who will receive it and where it will go. God urgently desires for all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). The seed falls on every type of soil, and even where it does not establish permanent growth, it still sprouted faith for a while.
The three types of soil where the seed never grows to maturity and to bear fruit, show the way the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh will try to hinder, stop, and choke out God’s Word. The seed that falls on the path is trampled and eaten by birds. Jesus explains this by saying, “The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” This happens whenever the devil causes God’s Word to be trampled or snatched away from people. Someone won’t give God’s Word a serious listen, because they’ve heard it’s “religious nonsense” or “superstition” or “old myths.” People’s hearts are hardened and resist the Word of God entering in and working on them. In this way, the devil tries to stop the good growth of the Word of God, before it can even begin. We can combat this, in turn, by holding the Word of God in high honor, and boldly in word and actions, show the goodness and truth of God’s Word to others.
But sometimes the seed of the Word gets past the devil’s first ploy, and it actually is received with joy, as on the rocky soil. Jesus explains: “when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” In this case, the Word of God produces faith and joy in a person, but only for a short time. But why does faith fail for them? There was no moisture, and no roots! Roots of course, drink in the moisture from the soil, and deep roots give a plant or tree both moisture and stability. But in times of testing, those on the rocky soil fell away. A faith that doesn’t grow deep roots will miss out both on the nourishing living water of Christ, but also the strong foundation and stability of resting on God’s Word through the troubles of life.
So how do we guard against a shallow faith that withers quickly in the heat of hardship? Colossians 2:6–7 says,  “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,  rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” We guard against it by being “rooted and built up” in Christ. Our whole life of discipleship circles around walking in Him and being taught and built up in Him. By you hearing God’s Word, learning it and taking it to heart, the Spirit grows those deep roots in us. This is how God’s Word equips us to stand against the hardships of life causing our faith to wither.
The third soil is the thorny soil, where the seed and thorns grow together, and thorns choke out the growth. Jesus says these hear the Word, “but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” What are the thorns? It’s not hard for us to understand why cares or worries would be “thorns” that  choke and pinch our faith—that we start to doubt or weaken under the sharp pressure of our anxious worries. But riches and pleasures of life? These are thorns? Most people are seeking to have wealth and enjoy the pleasures of life. Jesus is telling me that those are thorns too?! Yes sir! Jesus said you can’t serve two masters, God and money—you’ll hate one and love the other. Jesus also said that if you store up earthly treasures they’ll spoil, rust, or be lost—but if you store up treasures in heaven, they will last. And He also said that if you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all these things will be added to you as well.
We might remember that the Bible teaches that it’s the love of money that is the root of all evil. This translates to greed—and greed is a real thorn that pinches and chokes when faith is supposed to trust and rely on God, learning contentment and thanksgiving. Greed is never satisfied. But maybe it’s not just riches, but whatever type of pleasures we seek in life that is choking our faith. The point is, that if we are driven to satisfy only ourselves, and not think of the higher things of God, we will ultimately ignore God’s Word. God’s Word teaches a way of self-sacrifice and self-denial. Life that is filled with these thorns of cares, riches, and pleasure seeking, is a spiritual life that won’t reach maturity, but gets choked out.
Lastly we come to the good soil. If we have reflected on this parable, so far, we’ll probably be wondering what is the condition of our “soil”, our heart. Hopefully we all desire to be that “good soil” that hears and holds fast to the Word with honest and good hearts, and bears fruit with patience. But at the same time, we might start to consider that our lives might just be too crowded with cares, riches and pleasures—God’s Word is already being choked into a tiny stranglehold in our life, barely clinging to existence. Or we might notice that our roots are rather shallow, and we’re not sure whether we are ready for the hardships of life. Or maybe we’ve just hardened our ears and hearts too much and not given God’s Word much of a chance to work in us of late. And if so, we pray that the Holy Spirit would do the groundwork of clearing and readying our ears and hearts, so that we may have honest and good hearts.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear, Jesus calls out. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. “And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” Do you know that a normal good yield for a seed of grain is about tenfold? One seed planted leads to a harvest of an ear of grain with about ten seeds? So what does a hundredfold yield tell us about the power and fruitfulness of God’s Word? It’s incredibly powerful! Where does the power for a living and growing faith, in honest and good hearts come from? From you? No!! From God’s Word! His Word is powerful and active in our hearts, to accomplish just what His purpose is…fruitful and faithful Christians.
Jesus explains that the seed that falls in good soil “ are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience”. There are three actions here—hearing, holding fast to the Word, and bearing fruit. Hearing is God’s chosen way for His Word to enter our hearts. God doesn’t force His way, but comes to all, and enters where He is received. Holding fast to God’s Word is how God roots us deep in Him and establishes our faith, so it is sturdy and confident, trusting in Him. And bearing fruit is the end goal that God has in sight. He wants the seed that He plants, His Word, to grow and be fruitful in our lives. The honesty, goodness of heart, and patience, are examples of the fruit that God produces in us.
On our own, Scripture warns that our heart is the root of all kinds of sin, that our heart is stubborn and stony. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us a new heart. But this is just why Jesus came. This is just why the sower sows His seeds generously and liberally over all, so that many might hear and believe. Jesus’ Word brings forgiveness to the guilty, the washing away of all our sinful pride, stubbornness, and idolatry, bringing cleansing and humility to our hearts. Jesus’ Word brings life to the dead soil of our hearts, so that the seed springs up into a living and growing faith, that will bear the fruit of His Spirit. The Lutheran preacher John Gerhard talked about how the whole earth is renewed and made alive every year by seeds. All the plants and trees that drop seeds and produce new life. Farms that flourish from planted seeds. Everywhere we see green and life, we see the miracle of seeds.
In just such a way, God sows the seed of His Word in the hearts of men, women, and children all over the earth. Where before the ground was barren and lifeless, He sends His Word in seeds and rain showers, to pass over the earth and give it new life. Each one of us is born and made new by the living Word of Christ. We received Christ so we could walk in Him, rooted and established in faith. In God’s eyes, believers in Christ are a lively, growing green pasture, with a miraculous yield of fruit, created by His bounty and His blessing. Be of good faith and know that it is “God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Rejoice and believe in His Word, as it creates faith in honest and good hearts! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Isaiah 55:10-11 and note the similarity to Luke 8:4-15, the parable of the sower. Read carefully for a slight difference though. “Seed” is mentioned in both, but what is the Word of God being compared to in Isaiah 55:10-11? (Hint: see what is “cause and effect” in the example).
  2. What are the “cause and effect” in Luke 8:4-15? Who would rob the hearers of the Word of God? Luke 8:12. How do we know the devil is up to this? 2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:11. What are some ways that we see the Word of God being stolen away from people today?
  3. What two (related) things does the seed growing on rocky soil lack? Luke 8:6, 13. How are good roots established? Ephesians 3:16-17; Colossians 2:6-7. What can’t happen without good roots? How do we ensure that our roots are growing healthy and strong, and are watered?
  4. What chokes the seed growing on thorny ground? Luke 8:14. Read Matthew 6:19-34. What competes for our devotion to God? What do we have to understand about riches and pleasures to see that they are in fact “thorns” that threaten to choke out our faith? 1 Timothy 6:6-10; James 4:1-5; 1 John 2:15-17.
  5. What makes the good soil a home for the seed/Word? Luke 8:15. Name the qualities in this verse. How does God make a home in our hearts? John 14:23.
  6. What does the generosity of the sower, in spreading the seed everywhere, communicate about the nature of God? Acts 1:8; Luke 24:46-47; 1 Timothy 2:4.
  7. What does Luke 8:10 (quoting Isaiah 6:8-13), express about the amazement of unbelief? John 12:40 and Acts 28:26-28 also quote Isaiah to marvel at the unbelief towards God’s Word. What does Acts say this tells us about where the Gospel is destined to go?

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