Sexagesima Sermon, 2019
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Thus says the Lord: “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, 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 send it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
But, we have to add that Jesus says: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them…Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and down 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 13:18-19).
I don’t intend to pit the Word of God against itself. I only want to begin by observing that the birds come and devour the seed, that the evil one, satan, comes and snatches away what’s been sown in the heart of a man, and to ask whether or not that’s the purpose for which God intends His Word?
We can confidently answer, “Certainly not.”
Today, it’s our task to set these two truths, both of the Word of God, to set them next to each other, to confess them both, make sense of them both, to confess the reality that, on the one hand, God sends His Word to accomplish the task for which He purposes. He never fails to do so. And, on the other hand, the devil devours certain seeds of the Word, snatching it from the heart of certain men.
Jesus says, “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprung up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).
Jesus’ parables use familiar images to reveal what’s otherwise unknowable, the truth of the Kingdom of God.
We know how seeds work.
We know that birds eat seeds. We know that seeds planted where feet often fall don’t produce fruit. We know that weeds and thorns growing in the midst of seeds choke out life.
And—we know the joy of a bountiful harvest.
But the Kingdom of God must be revealed because, by earthly standards, it’s ludicrous, illogical, and even scandalous.
We would never understand it if were not revealed to us.
No sower sows his garden on the pavement or gravel of his driveway. No sower looks weeds and thorns in the eye only to plant his tomatoes there in their midst. No sower intends to feed the birds with what should feed his family.
Human sowers take great care to plant in the right places.
We don’t sow seed in the ludicrous, illogical, and scandalous ways this Sower sows the Word.
And that’s the most wonderful news.
I think we call this parable “The Parable of the Sower” only because that’s what Jesus calls it. He says, in explanation of the parable, “Hear then the parable of the sower” (Matthew 13:18).
It’s rare that Jesus names a parable. It’s rare that He explains them. One reason He names and explains this one is so that we get it right.
If Jesus didn’t name this one and explain it, we’d be tempted to call it the Parable of the Different Types of Soil. We’d be tempted to live our lives identifying each other by the type of soil we are, cataloging and categorizing each other, making spiritual inventory lists of soils, and teaching and reading “How To” manuals that look at the methods for how to get the congregation from Point A to Point B, spiritually speaking.
If Jesus didn’t name this one and explain it, I know we’d be tempted to understand this parable that way, the wrong way, because we’re already tempted to understand it that way.
We already try to explain it that way.
We emphasize not the quality of the Sower, we emphasize the soil. We observe in Christians who attend church sporadically, if at all, the fleshly thorns and worldly cares and riches that are all too obvious.
We know what should be done to bad soil to cultivate it into good soil, and so we offer, from on high, our own guidance, our hard-earned wisdom, our methods, many and various, to make a man’s life better—to move him from path and rocks and thorns to good soil.
But that misses the point entirely.
We’re all the types of soil all the time.
When is your heart hardened against God’s Word? We’ll all agree that Christians must pray. But will we all agree that Christians must fast? Jesus doesn’t teach us that if we pray, we’re to pray a certain way. He teaches us that when we pray, we’re to pray a certain way. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t teach us that if we fast, we’re to fast a certain way. He teaches that when we fast, we’re to fast a certain way.
Christian discipleship includes as a meet, right, and salutary discipline prayer, alms giving, and fasting (cf. Matthew 6).
But when we harden our hearts to even some of God’s Word, satan comes and snatches it away.
We may rejoice to receive the Absolution, but we must include in our confession even sins we’ve forgotten.
We must recognize that the Christian life is a constant struggle between God cultivating bad soil into good (God is the Sower—His Word is the seed) and good soil bearing fruit—some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
If we emphasize ourselves and focus on which type of soil we are or should be, we fail to confess exactly how God makes believers out of bad soil. We fail to put the emphasis on the right syllable of God’s Word.
It’s the parable of the Sower.
So, observe the specific—ludicrous, illogical, and even scandalous—qualities of God, the Sower.
He sows from an unimaginable bounty, without the fear of running out. Understanding the seed to be the Word of God, we should understand God, the Sower, to be causing His Word to be preached in such a way as to reap a harvest from everywhere, from all nations, tribes, languages, and people.
We should understand the Sower and the Word of God in this way: that God wholeheartedly desires you, your salvation, your everlasting rest and peace.
And to make that happen, He sends His Word as rain and snow, going out from His mouth, through His many and various mouthpieces. “It shall not return to [Him] empty, but it shall accomplish that which [He purposes], and shall succeed in the thing for which [He sends] it” (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11).
So, let’s deal, now, with the fact that God never fails in causing His Word to be preached to all nations, and Jesus tells us that satan devours some of the seed, snatching it away from the hearts of certain men.
This must be said.
Jesus speaks in parables “because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13).
If you harden your heart to God’s Word, satan will snatch the Word away before it can create in you a clean heart.
If you fail to confess your sins, the fleshly thorns and worldly cares of this life will choke out any chance you have to bear fruit for your neighbor’s good and to God’s glory.
If you fail to grow and mature in faith, to gladly hear the Word of God, preached and taught, you’ll wither when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word.
And then you’ll be angry at others because you don’t know the things you should know.
If we emphasize the soil over the Sower, we’ll fear judgment, we’ll scorn God’s Word, because we’re aware of our sins, our rocks, our thorns.
But he who has ears, let him hear of the Sower who causes His Word to be preached from an endless supply.
Hear of the Sower who’s sent you His Holy Spirit, who writes the preached Word into your hearts, that you would receive it with joy and serve God and neighbor with gladness that confesses thorns and rocks for what they are—sin—and receiving the Absolution unto everlasting life.
Hear of the Sower who uses all things, even wicked satan and evil, for the good of those who love God. Satan means it for evil, but God means it for good. The birds who snatch the seed away deposit it eventually elsewhere, if you follow me, though they don’t intend to do so.
The snare the devil sets for us has himself ensnared.
Do you see how Jesus bears this attack for us? He carried His cross along the packed path and planted it in the hard and rocky soil of Golgotha. A crown of thorns was placed upon His head. Satan and his demons hellishly hounded and devoured Him. Yet, through His dying and rising again, our Lord and Christ, Jesus, destroys these enemies of ours. Jesus is Himself the Seed which, cast out by His Father, died, was put into the earth, to bring forth to new life and produce much.
Jesus is the Word of God, the Sower, which doesn’t return void but yields a harvest a hundredfold.
This is the Parable of the Sower—who went out to sow—that you would be see, and hear, and understand these Words unto life everlasting.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen!