Treasuring the Word of the Kingdom - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon read by David Ling, Eder
Matthew 13:1-8, Matthew 13:18-23
July 12, 2020

The Gospel readings for this Sunday and the next two Sundays feature several of Jesus’s parables from Matthew 13. The parable Jesus speaks to us today is the parable of the sower.

In this parable, Jesus draws from farming practices in His day to illustrate something important about the Kingdom of God.

He tells us about a sower who was planting seed in his field. Imagine that the sower has a bag slung over his shoulder full of seed. He takes a handful of seed. He throws the seed all around. The seed falls on different kinds of ground.

Some seed falls on the hard paths. Some seed falls on stony ground that does not have depth of topsoil. Some seed falls on the ground where thorn bushes are growing. Some seed falls on good and deep soil.

The seed that fell on the hard path is immediately eaten by birds.

The seed that fell on stony ground sprouted. Because the soil was not deep there, however, there was no depth of soil for the new sprout to sink roots down into to get the nutrients and water from the soil. When the heat of the summer sun blazed upon it, the new sprout withered and died.

The seed that fell among the thorn bushes also sprouted. But the thorn bushes eventually choked the newly sprouted plant, and it died.

Other seed fell on the good soil. It sprouted and grew strong and healthy. It could sink roots down deep into the soil and draw nutrients and water from it. It produced fruit and a yield at the harvest.

Jesus later explained this parable according to the types of ground that the seed fell on. But let’s step back for a moment and ask what is really at stake. We see that everything Jesus talks about in the parable relates to the seed, which is the word of the kingdom (Mat. 13:19). He also is concerned about faith in relation to the word of kingdom, because at the end of speaking the parable, He said, “The one who has hears, let him hear” (Mat. 13:9). Hearing has to do with believing. So Jesus is talking about believing the word; He is concerned about faith.

So this parable is about the dangers that there are that threaten faith in the word of the kingdom. Jesus is teaching us so we are on guard about the dangers to faith.

Now the word of the kingdom involves both law and Gospel, but law used in relation to the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of who Jesus is. It tells us what He has done for all humanity in His death and resurrection, and the significance of that for repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47). It speaks to us the promise of eternal life and new creation. The word of the kingdom is the teaching and preaching of the Christian faith from the Scriptures. This is the sowing of the word.

So Jesus is teaching us to be on guard about the dangers that threaten having and holding this Christian faith. These dangers are represented by the path, the stony soil, and the ground where thorns grow.

Jesus tells us that the seed that fell on the path, where it was immediately eaten by birds, is meant to illustrate how the devil comes and snatches away the word that has been sown in someone’s heart.

How does the devil do this? Let’s take a cue from the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:1-5). There we see how the devil attacked the word of God that God had spoken to Adam. The devil did that to get Adam and Eve not to trust that God was good and kindly, and generously and graciously disposed toward them. He did that so they would embrace lust, pride in their own ability, and lawlessness. The devil’s strategy is to attack the teaching of God’s word in many ways and to substitute that teaching with false doctrine. The threat from the devil is false doctrine in contradiction to God’s word.

This could be God’s word of the law, where the devil contradicts what God says is wrong by saying it is right, and by saying what is right is wrong. In this way the devil wants to harden us in sin so that we would refuse to ever be convinced by the truth of God’s law. The devil wants to convince us that we are just fine how we are and not in need of forgiveness. He wants to keep us from Jesus. He wants us to be destroyed in God’s wrath.

But then the devil will also contradict the Gospel to try to convince us that Jesus could never be the Savior we need from sin and death. The devil wants to rob us of the comfort of God’s grace and love, which never fails us, and which we find only in Jesus Christ as taught to us in the word of the kingdom.

Thus, the devil has two strategies, and he will work either one depending on how he thinks he can accomplish destroying faith.  Either he will try to harden us with respect to sin so that we think we don’t need the forgiveness Jesus has won and brings to us. Or he will convince the one who knows they need a Savior that Jesus is not the Savior they need and try to point them to some other solution.

Remember, Jesus called the devil a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). What he tries to do is not the truth. He wants to undermine the truth. His concern is to turn us away from Christ and to try to destroy faith in Him, and to destroy ourselves and others.

So let us be on guard and resist the devil standing firm in the faith taught to us by the word of the kingdom (1 Peter 5:9).

The second danger to faith relates to the seed that fell on the stony ground. There is some good soil mixed with stones there. The good soil is not deep, however. So the seed sprouts but does not have good soil to sink roots into and grow. The person hears the word of God and immediately receives it with joy but does not have root in himself.

The dangers to faith here are tribulations that can happen and the persecution on account of the word that can arise.  

Notice the person Jesus speaks about here has faith. The problem is sticking with Jesus when the pressure from tribulations or from the world comes.

These are difficult pressures. The pressure from tribulation is a pressure rooted in despair and the struggle to believe that God is good and faithful, that Jesus is real and the word of the kingdom true, when one’s experience suggests otherwise. And these experiences can be very hard indeed, and deeply painful. There is nothing easy here.

Yet, the word of the kingdom speaks to your soul with the promise that Jesus is there for you with a strength we don’t often comprehend; He is there for you with His love which never fails and provides eternal comfort; He is there with the promise that He has the last word. Jesus is risen. It isn’t over yet, even in death.

In relation to persecution, the problem we have is fear; fear of human beings and the institutions of civil society that can treat us badly for being Christian. Yet, the word of the kingdom speaks to your soul that Jesus has overcome the world. The word of the kingdom assures you that no matter what the world may do, you are an heir of an eternal kingdom in which you will live in victory and joy forever; and the kingdoms and powers and threats and deeds of this world will pass away. Though they set themselves over against you as powerful and eternal, they are mortal and limited in what they can do. Jesus is eternal.

We need to have roots to stand firm in the face of tribulations and persecution.
When persecution comes, there comes a time to just stand firm, to resist in order to stand in faith. Reason won’t help you in these times. Have the root of faith deep down in your soul. Pursue the ways in which faith in Christ gets even more deeply rooted in your soul; where the Spirit works to testify to your spirit that you are a child of God (Romans 8:16). The Spirit does this through the word of the kingdom; in the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood; in and through the mutual conversation, consolation, and encouragement of the Christ’s people; and through prayer informed by and rooted in God’s promises. 

The third danger relates to the thorny soil. The danger here has to do with the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches. Riches deceive by tempting our hearts to believe that money, pleasure, power, and things are what really satisfy the soul, rather than fellowship, peace, and joy in God. They tempt us to believe that the end and consummation of our destiny is in the things in this world, rather than in our eternal destiny with God.

And riches bring with them spiritual forces that belong to them: anxiety, how do I get it, keep it, and get more; fear of losing it once we have it or fear of missing out on it. This is what makes this fallen world go around. The temptations and pressure are great here. Jesus uses the picture of choking. The cares associated with the deceitfulness of riches are like a choking of faith.

Let us be on guard against this danger by feeding ourselves on the word of the kingdom which always directs us to God’s faithfulness and care, and the true satisfaction of our souls and destiny in God and His plan. This gives us the faith to put the things of this world in their proper place and proper perspective.

Finally, Jesus tells us about the good soil. This is faith. It is believing in the word of kingdom and receiving the truth and the blessing it gives. It is simple trust. When God speaks His word of the kingdom, this is the trust that says “yes” to the word and “thanks be to God.” The word verifies itself to the heart, and the Spirit makes the word sprout and grow and produce fruit.  

Guard this faith. It is your most precious treasure in this life. Grow in this faith by being attentive to God’s word and sacrament in faith. And do not be afraid. The Spirit is with you and leads you always through the word of the kingdom. Faith in the word of the kingdom shines light on your path, and in the end, it will lead you home.

Amen.



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