Sermons, Uncategorized

The Mystery of the Sown Seed

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“And [Jesus] said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come’” (Mark 4:26-29).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Look around you. Right here. Here is the kingdom of God! It may not look like much. Then again, it may be a lot more than you think. To begin with, it sure doesn’t look like a kingdom. Not you. Not me. Surely not a kingdom worthy of God. Well, that’s the way it is. The kingdom of God can be quite a letdown.

We know that we live in God’s kingdom. But when we look around, what do we see? Empty seats. (Empty seats tending to be concentrated in the front pews!) And to make matters worse, when we look at the seats that aren’t empty, or the man standing in the pulpit, what do we see? Sinners! Poor, miserable sinners, who are by nature sinful and unclean, who have daily sinned against God in thought, word, and deed and who justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment.

We see people who aren’t as active in the church as we think they ought to be. People who don’t always treat us or one another as kindly as we think they should. People who struggle with the lusts and weakness of their own sinful flesh. People who are quick to anger and slow to forgive. People whose lives outside the church don’t always rise to the standards we might set for them. And if we take an honest look at ourselves, each of us would have to admit they we, too, seem altogether out of place in the kingdom of God. Yes, we know that the kingdom of God is among us. But sometimes it’s hard to believe. It just doesn’t look like we think the kingdom of God ought to look.

Well, we aren’t alone in feeling this way. In fact, Jesus’ first followers felt the same frustration—but even more so! They had been waiting… and waiting… and waiting… for the promised Messiah. At last, there were signs that He had come! The sick were being made well! Evil spirits were being cast out! The blind were being made to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk! He turned water into wine and gave bread to a crowd of thousands! He calmed the storm with just a word! And this man taught with authority like no other.

But, somehow, the pieces didn’t all seem to fit. Rome still had Israel under its thumb. The corrupt house of Herod still cast a dark shadow over their land. And the One to whom they were looking for deliverance seemed in no hurry to take up a crown or raise an army. If Immanuel had at last come, why wasn’t He doing more to ransom captive Israel?

To top it off, this man was associating with all the wrong people and breaking the sacred traditions of the Pharisees. Time and time again, He did what was unlawful on the Sabbath! He ate and drank with the sinners! Tax collectors and women of ill repute were among His closest friends.

It just didn’t seem to fit. On the one hand, this clearly was no ordinary man. On the other hand, this sure wasn’t what people thought the kingdom of God ought to look like. It was so common, so ordinary, so disappointing.

Jesus knew what they were thinking—and He knows that our fallen, sinful minds just can’t wrap themselves around the mystery of His kingdom. So Jesus tells us a parable:

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).

Jesus focuses on the seed. Not the soil. Not the sower. The seed is the primary actor in this parable. Although a farmer plays an important role in the cultivation of his field—after all, he sows the seed—its growth occurs apart from his efforts, even as he sleeps. He doesn’t understand how it happens. Not really. Oh, he understands you need a certain combination of seed, soil, water, nutrients, and sunshine, but no one—not even the most advanced horticulturist—know all the chemical and biological processes that are necessary to make a seed sprout, grow, and produce grain for the harvest. It’s a mystery. But that’s okay. It doesn’t really matter how it grows, but just to know that it does grow. The power is in the seed.

So it is with the Gospel. It is sown. It sprouts. It matures. It is harvested. Christ’s parable echoes Isaiah 55:11: “So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The harvest Jesus speaks about includes the final harvest at the end of the world, when all mankind will see the marvelous crop the Lord has produced through His Word in this world of sin. But the harvest is also reaped here and now in the life of every child of God in whose heart the Word has taken root and grown and whose faith God uses time and again to bring that same Word to others.

Still, the harvest isn’t the believer’s doing, but God’s. Paul later put it this way in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

Notice that in this parable, Jesus doesn’t explain the mystery of His kingdom. It’s not the kind of mystery that can be explained. It can only be accepted by faith. But Jesus does offer comfort and hope by telling us how this mystery ends. The seed that’s been sown will produce a crop. And when the grain is ripe, the harvest will come!

We don’t need to rush out every day and anxiously examine the grain to see if it’s harvest time. When a field has been planted, the farmer doesn’t need to worry and fret every day about when the harvest will come. The harvest will come in its own time. The same is true in the kingdom of God.

In this parable, Jesus gives us the comforting assurance that responsibility for the kingdom’s growth does not rest on our shoulders. The seed has been sown and growth will come by itself—not as the product of our efforts or ingenuity. The Lord of the harvest is in control. There’s no need to worry.

So what does this mean for you? Well, first of all, it tells you how you were brought into the kingdom of God. The seed of God’s word was sown in your heart. By processes we cannot fully understand, it sprouted, took root, and has grown.

For most of you, this first happened in your Baptism. Nobody could see it; it looked like three splashes of plain water, but in that water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word, the seed of the kingdom was sown into your heart. Your Baptism works forgiveness of sin, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to you and all who believe this.

And that seed continues to grow and produce new life. As the seed of the Word—God’s Law and Gospel—is continuously sown in you, your Old Adam is drowned by daily contrition and repentance and dies with all sins and evil desires, so that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Imperceptibly, bit by bit, you are being conformed to the image of Christ.

The seed of the Word is also sown in you in the Lord’s Supper. In, with, and under the bread and the wine you receive the very body and blood of your Savior Jesus Christ given and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given you through the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

The second thing that this means for you is that God has invited you to be part of the process of sowing the precious, mysterious seed of His kingdom, even as you carry out your everyday vocations.

It might seem like a small thing, too insignificant for the effort it takes to have devotions with your family at the end of the day, but think about what’s happening: you’re sowing the seed of the kingdom, trusting God’s promise that that Word will take root, grow, and produce a harvest of faith.

Or how about the next-door neighbor who is going through a rough patch? You probably didn’t even think about, but in praying with her, you were not just bringing her needs before the throne of God, you were sowing the seed of God’s Word. Who knows? That simple seed might take root and grow almost immediately, or it may lay dormant for a while until someone else comes along and waters it. That’s okay. You’re not responsible for the growth, only the faithfulness of sowing the seed.

And that Bible story you shared with your grandchild? You thought you were only having a good time and entertaining them for a few minutes. It turns out you were sowing the seed of faith!

Such is the mystery of the sown seed. The Gospel, like seed, generates spiritual life and causes spiritual growth not only in a way that in incomprehensible to man. Just as plants pass from one stage to another in ways that cause us to marvel, so is the growth which the Gospel produces. God’s kingdom grows mysteriously of itself, at its own pace, and through the power of the Word.

This reality often causes frustration among those who seek a quick fix or eagerly long for a rapid expansion of the kingdom, and all the more as we only have a short-term view of things. But God’s kingdom grows according to His plan and timetable. And it is a great blessing that thing ultimately depend on Him and not on us, for only He is able to bring home a great harvest for life eternal.

So, just go out and sow the seed of God’s Word. Witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus faithfully, without worry, and in all patience, knowing it is all in the Lord’s powerful hand. Trust that it will bring results in and others. And remember, no matter your past failures or present state, God’s life-giving Word is at work in your life, too, producing faith, forgiveness, and eternal life. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven of all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

Holy Father, Keep Them

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[Jesus said:] Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one” (John 17:11b).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“The Bucket List,” tells the story of two men who have little in common except the room they share while they await treatment for terminal cancer. As their friendship develops they compile a “bucket list,” or things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.” You can tell a lot about what a person thinks is important by what they choose to say and do in their final days or hours on this earth.

Jesus is no exception. In addition to teaching His disciples about true greatness through serving, telling them one more time that He was going to return to the Father, and instituting the new covenant of His body and blood, Jesus prayed—first for Himself, then His disciples, and then for all believers to come.

In our text, Jesus prayed specifically for His disciples. The disciples were His special charges, and they needed help and strength to face what was coming. Jesus was going to leave the world and go to the Father, but His disciples had to remain in the world. So Jesus prayed for them.

“Holy Father,” Jesus prayed, stressing the reverence that is due God’s name. Then He called for the Father to keep and guard the disciples in His name. God’s name is everything we can know about Him: His person, His power, His character—His entire revelation of Himself through the Word. Here God’s name clearly implies His power that saves His followers from the forces of evil.

Jesus was given the Father’s name to guard and to proclaim in word, and to display in deed, as the incarnate Word of God. Through it all, He revealed and implemented the saving love of His Father. Now as He was completing His work, He was assigning the guarding and proclaiming of the name to His apostles.

“Keep them in Your name,” Jesus prayed, “that they may [continue to] be one as We are one.” All who believe and follow Jesus enjoy a God-given spiritual union in Him, reflecting Jesus’ own eternal oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God in three persons. This oneness helps us as we are sent into the world.

Jesus had used the power of God’s name to protect His disciples. It worked. They were kept safe. Not one was lost, except the one foretold by Scripture. Instead of remaining a child of God by faith in Jesus, Judas Iscariot was headed for damnation. Even as he received the bread of the Last Supper from the Lord’s hand, Satan had entered into him. At that moment, even as Jesus prayed for His disciples, Judas was betraying his Master for thirty pieces of silver.

That one of the Twelve was doomed to destruction by his negative role in God’s will for His Son is hard to understand. But let us remember: Judas was not a puppet on a string manipulated by God to be the villain in the drama of Jesus’ saving mission. He was chosen by Jesus to be an apostle out of the same gracious intention that He had for all the others. Judas was evidently a believer—but in the dreadful moment of having to choose, he chose to implement his own desire and will over that of the Lord. All of this, foreknown by God, made him the “son of perdition,” “doomed to destruction.” The lesson should not be lost on us. By the name of God, Jesus’ disciples are kept for God. But those who reject His name in unbelief are on the road to destruction.

Jesus’ time had come. He was to complete His work of salvation and return to His Father. But now while He was still on earth with the disciples, He prayed that they might have the fullness of Jesus’ joy in themselves. Just hearing the prayer would help sustain the disciples in the troubled hours ahead, and it laid the foundation for the joy to follow. Jesus’ joy was to complete the work the Father gave Him and return to His glory. The disciples received the full measure of that joy in the assurance that Jesus succeeded for them and all people.

The disciples could depend on Jesus’ Word, which was also the Father’s Word. Through that Word, Jesus’ disciples were separated from this unbelieving world and consecrated for God. They were not part of the world any longer, just as Jesus was not part of the world. They needed the Father’s protection. They would face hatred from the world for the same reason the world hated the Lord: God’s Word exposes and judges human sin as it calls people to forgiveness in Christ.

But please notice: Jesus did not pray for God to take the disciples out of the world and keep them safe. They had work to do for God following Jesus’ departure. As the disciples carried out their mission, they would face fierce, hellish opposition, no less than Jesus had encountered. They needed Jesus’ prayer.

We must never underestimate the power of the evil one. On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus made this clear to His disciples. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you [all the disciples] as wheat. When Peter declared that he would remain at Jesus’ side even if all the others left, Jesus added: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). When Peter insisted he was ready to go with Jesus to prison or death, Jesus was more blunt: “I tell you Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know Me” (Luke 22:34).

Later, St. Peter could draw from his own personal experience of the destructive power of the evil one as he wrote: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Peter knew the sting of Satan’s bite, but he also knew the restoration of the Lord. That’s why he could continue: “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10-11).

Although Peter failed to live up to his prideful boast, by God’s grace his faith did not fail, as Judas’ had. Rather than fall into despair after his shameful denial of Christ, Peter turned back in repentance. The resurrected Lord forgave Peter and restored him to leadership, as we see in our First Lesson for today.

As you prepare to battle Satan each day, keep the following precious promise in your heart and mind: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

To this end, God also gives you His Sacraments. Through Baptism, Jesus protects you from Satan’s destructive powers. When you are baptized into Christ, the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ comes to live within you. He is someone the devil definitely wants to avoid. St. Paul explains, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

God also gives His devil-defeating power to His children in a special way in Holy Communion. Communion is more than a mere ritual of remembrance. Jesus’ body and blood are a living, spiritual medicine, which is able to suppress the devil and control the power of sin. Receiving the Lord’s Supper regularly is especially important at the time of illness and near death. Luther writes: “As long as I am living, it is necessary for me to go to the Sacrament in order to strengthen my faith so that death (in case it comes swiftly) may not scare me and cause me to despair.”

Pastors today need to explain the benefits and blessings of frequent and regular distribution and reception of Holy Communion to their people so that always and particularly, at the hour of death, these children of God may desire Communion, especially to fight the devil’s final attacks.

For every Christian, each day is a struggle against the demonic power of sin. Thank God daily that Jesus has given you another special weapon to fight the power of sin: His gift of prayer. When His disciples asked for advice on how to pray, Jesus said to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, with the confidence that God will not only hear you, He will surely answer your prayer for protection from sin and every evil.

Using prayer for protection from the power of sin is not a human idea. In our text, Jesus prays that very thing for His disciples: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.” Jesus told His disciples also to use this divine weapon, and now He commands you: “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40).

And as you pray, don’t forget to ask for help from God’s holy angels. Angels are “ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). The psalmist writes: “[The Lord] will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all of your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

The devil may try to tempt or even destroy you, but God provides His holy angels to be present at your side at all times to strengthen and deliver you! Even when you sometimes stumble and fall, your heavenly Father sends His angels to protect and bring you new hope and strength.

No wonder, Luther, in his Small Catechism, gave this example of prayer for the head of the family to teach his household to pray each morning: “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

Your help and only hope to overcome the evil one is in your Savior, Jesus Christ. When you are baptized, Christ lives within you to guide your thinking and to fight the devil every time he tries to tempt, control, or destroy you. Through His Supper, our Lord strengthens your faith that you might resist temptation. Just as He prayed for His disciples, our ascended Lord is at the Father’s right hand interceding on your behalf. His Holy Spirit helps you to pray that you would not be led into temptation, but delivered from the power of the evil one.

And should you fall into temptation, repent and take heart, trusting that this sin has also been paid for. You have been redeemed by the holy, precious blood of Christ, and His innocent suffering and death. Indeed, for His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.