Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)
“Hearing Affects Living and Living Affects Hearing”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
July 12, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson for the day, from Matthew 13:
1On that day, when Jesus had done out of the house, he was sitting by the sea, 2and many crowds gathered to him, so that after getting into a boat, he sat, and all the crowd was standing on the shore. 3And he spoke many things to them by means of parables, saying, “Behold, the one who was sowing went out in order to sow. 4And while he was sowing, there were seeds which fell by the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5And other seeds feel on the rocky ground where they did not have much soil, and immediately they came up because they did not have depth of soil. 6But when the sun had risen, they were scorched, and because they did not have root, they were withered. 7And other seed fell on the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. 8And other seeds fell on good soil and continued to give fruit, some a hundred and some sixty and some thirty. 9Let the one who has ears hear.” . . . 18“Therefore, you, hear the parable of the one who sowed. 19When anyone hears the word of the reign and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one who was sown by the path. 20And the one who was sown on the rocky ground, this is the one who is hearing the word and immediately is receiving it with joy. 21But he does not have root in himself, rather, he is temporary, and when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he is caused to stumble. 22And the one who was sown into thorns, this is the one who is hearing the word, and the worry of this age and wealth’s deceitfulness choke the word and it becomes unfruitful. 23And the one who was sown upon good earth, this is the one who is hearing the word and understanding it, who indeed begins to bear fruit and to produce, one a hundred, one sixty, and one thirty.”
King Solomon wrote at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Prov. 1:5 ESV). No matter how wise or knowledgeable a person might consider themself to be, there is much more to learn from the Word of God. Wisdom and understanding come from God through Jesus Christ. Understanding is a free gift from God through the hearing of the Word, received by faith. But Jesus also said, following the parable of the sower, as recorded by St. Luke, “Take care then how you hear” (Luke 8:18 ESV). We are familiar with the Biblical truth that hearing the Word affects our living. How does our living affect the hearing of the Word of God?
The late Rev. Dr. Norma Nagel frequently shared with us seminary students the primacy of the Word of God in the Gospel: “The Word is what does it.” In various contexts, the Word is what does it—creates saving faith in the heart that trusts in Jesus, God’s Son, as Lord and Savior. It is the Word that does it—delivers the forgiveness of sins through the hearing of the Gospel message of Christ crucified and risen. It is the Word that does it, making Baptism a “washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). It is the Word that delivers to us Christ’s true Body and Blood with the bread and the wine in Holy Communion, gifting to us forgiveness, life, and salvation.
As we heard last Sunday from Matthew 11, it is the Word of Christ that reveals the Father to us. It is the Word that shows us the gracious heart of God in His Son Jesus who grants us a pleasant yoke and a light burden as we find our rest in Him. The Gospel Word is God’s gift to us, bringing the reign of heaven to us in the person and saving work of Jesus Christ. Only by hearing the Word is saving faith created so that a person apprehends by the gift of faith the forgiveness Christ won for him or her on the cross. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 ESV).
The Word, then, is a Means of Grace. It is the way God has chosen to deliver to people personally the forgiveness and everlasting life that Jesus alone purchased with His blood shed on the cross. The Sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper are the Word combined with a visible element (water, bread, and wine) that offers, gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins. But it is the Word that does it! Not the water; not the bread and the wine. The Word of the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. For the Word delivers Jesus to us. The Word gives us His forgiveness. The Word creates and sustains and strengthens faith that receives the gifts of Christ’s cross.
It is not at all foreign to us as Christian, then, that the right use of the Word is to hear it—to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it! Only the Word of Christ gives us faith and forgiveness and new life. Only the Word of God by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit changes our behavior from sinner to saint, conforming us more and more to the image of Christ. “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (SC: Explanation of the Third Article). So Jesus admonishes in our reading, “Let the one who has ears hear!” And again, “Therefore, you hear the parable of the one who sowed.” Yes, really hear it. Really listen to understand, to inwardly digest it by taking it to heart.
It’s not only important, then, that we hear the Word of God, but it is also important how we hear it. Hearing the Word affects our living. We receive the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, faith, strength for the day from the Gospel. It makes us “new creations.” But living also affects our hearing of the Word.
Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed shows that, although we cannot do anything to add to the power of the Word of Christ, we can certainly do something to impede its power. “When anyone hears the Word of the reign of heaven,” Jesus begins His explanation, “the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” Satan is active in the lives of all who hear the Word. He is active to thwart your hearing and understanding of the Word of truth. In fact, it is the evil one, along with your own sinful flesh and the world, that tempt you to ignore the Word by not coming to the Divine Service, by skipping devotional readings of the Bible. Tribulation and persecution because of the Word of Christ, because you are a disciple, can also inhibit the hearing of the Word, causing a person to stumble and fall away because of the ridicule or the hatred that the Word brings. Then there are all those “thorns” of this earthly life—carelessness, indifference, worry, material possessions, and pleasure. These thorns choke the Word of God and inhibit its success in our lives because we turn from the Word to the comfort of things and pleasure rather than finding solace and comfort and strength in that Gospel Word.
But do not loose heart. The Gospel makes the soil (you!) grow things, like faith and good works. The Gospel Word of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins is dynamite! It is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16 ESV). The Word is what does it! The Word that created your faith in Christ strengthens and sustains your faith in the Savior throughout the trials, the persecutions, and the thorny spots of this life. Despite Satan’s best efforts, the Word still goes forth and does what God has sent it to do—deliver to you and all people the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting that the Savior won for the world on the cross. We Lutherans know this fact well because we sing it with such conviction:
Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none.
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him. (LSB 656:3)
The Gospel Word also grows in you the fruits of faith, empowering you by the Spirit to show forth the good works that demonstrate your faith in concrete ways as your love for other people in the name of Jesus is displayed in mercy. Jesus explained, “And the one who was sown upon good earth, this is the one who is hearing the word and understanding it, who indeed begins to bear fruit and to produce, one a hundred, one sixty, and one thirty.” That’s you, disciples of Jesus Christ, because the Sower went out to sow.
Jesus knew where the seed of the Word would be scattered. He sowed His reckless love to all people in all situations in life. He went to the cross to pay for all sins and to suffer death so that you and all people might have forgiveness and life everlasting. And the Word continues to be sown today in all life’s strangeness, in the midst of thorns and rocky ground and lifeless paths. And that Word is still heard. It still creates saving faith in Jesus Christ, rescues from death and the power of the devil, and gives eternal salvation by grace through faith. Living does affect the hearing of the Word. But the Word is not stopped. It is not defeated. The hearing of the Word affects your living here and now as you are empowered to show love and mercy to all people because it is the Word that does it. It saves you from sin and death and makes you to be holy people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Amen.