Who Has Ears to Hear?

Text: Luke 8:4-15
Date: Sexagesima
+ 2/11/07

     Jesus’ parable of the seed and the various types of soil in part answers the question of the mystery, “Why do not all people believe?” and “Why are not all people saved?” It answers in part why certain people reject the Christian Gospel as being irrelevant to their lives while others embrace it as the most essential thing that alone, more than anything else, gives meaning and purpose to their lives. For it treats of the spiritual battle between God’s universal, loving plan of salvation on the one hand and mankind’s slavery to sin on the other. In fact it is precisely because of mankind’s common spiritual blindness that Jesus spoke so much of the time in parables. For at once parables attract at least curiosity and gain our attention. Yet the key to understanding Jesus’ parables is a power or attitude beyond our own intellect or natural abilities. On the one hand the Bible delivers to us what we are to believe about God and about the world. On the other hand it is only when God gives and works this thing called faith in the heart that a person is enabled to believe. But this still doesn’t answer the question as to why some believe and others do not. For either God is a capricious god in the giving of His gifts, not willing, as the Bible says, for “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), or there is something else going on here.

     To those, as Jesus said, “it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God,” namely his disciples, Jesus explains the parable and says, “The seed is the word of God,” and the four different kinds of soil on or in which the seed is scattered describe the fallen, sinful nature of man and our ability to reject the Word or to allow the Word to take root and grow and flourish. As with all His parables there is a twist somewhere along the line and here it is that the seed, the Word of God, actually has the ability in itself to change us from the hard, rocky, thorny soil into the good, receptive soil.

     In our Entrance Hymn today you began by singing the prayer, “Lord, open” not “my ears” but “open Thou my heart to hear.” Anyone can hear the words. Jesus spoke the words of His parable to “a great crowd” that was gathering and “people from town after town” who had come to him. We love great crowds. We like popularity. We like being liked. Yet recall also the time when many of His disciples grumbled that His teaching was “hard” and they “turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:60, 66). Something was missing. To listen through our ears is one thing. But to listen with our hearts is to let the Word of God get beneath our intellect, our rationalizations, our doubts and fears and objections, our spiritual blindness, and to take root so as to change us and awaken us to spiritual realities that are beyond the perception of our eyes or ears or understanding as the Apostle Paul spoke of “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). As he wrote to the Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

     The four types of soil in the parable describe the battle between the Word of God and the fallen, spiritually blind nature of our sin. The first is the Word scattered along the path and trampled underfoot, the birds of the air devouring it. Jesus says in explanation, “the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” These are those in whom the Word only goes in one ear and out the other, to no effect. There are two problems here. One is the hard-packed soul that simply ignores the Word. The other is the devil who does everything in his considerable power to keep the Word away from people, and people away from the preaching of the Word.

     You wouldn’t think, at first, that those who hear the Word and yet just ignore it are actually possessed by the devil. When people who have, for whatever reason, at one time or another had their names on the membership list of the church but who have been in the habit of not coming to church at all—some for a very long time—are told that they are “despising God’s Word” they will usually object saying they don’t “despise” God’s Word, they just don’t have time for it for whatever reasons or excuses. But Jesus says here that it is the devil at work taking the word out of their hearts. To cease hearing God’s Word is to despise it. There is no middle ground, no “hold button” keeping God on the line but waiting until we think we need Him and His help. When such a person, or you yourself are no more responsive to preaching than a log Christ says here it is none other than the devil that is in control. For all rationalizations or excuses the bottom line is that the devil is winning, keeping you away from the powerful, saving and sanctifying Word of God. Among people who desire God’s Word and help and salvation, however, the devil is kept at bay.

     The next sorts of soil are the rocky soil and the thorn-infested soil. In both of these cases faith begins to be planted through the Word but it dies out either because of times of testing or because of the cares and riches and pleasures and concerns of life. When persecution and tribulation come along, some become afraid or unwilling to remain faithful for various reasons and we fall away. Martin Luther said “they are like wormy fruit that continues to hang on the tree while the air is calm but falls off as soon as the wind blows.”

     On the other hand we are numbered among those with ready hearts, like the good soil, when faith enables us to accept and retain God’s Word bringing forth good fruit. These are the hearts, unlike the first three groups, that hear the Word and believe the truth with joy. This faith is not only unshaken when hard trials come our way but is actually strengthened and made the more resolute through trials and testing. It is not led astray nor is it swayed by opposing popular opinions or political correctness. It fears and loves God above all things, that is, it believes and lives out the First Commandment and knows it is engaged in a constant battle against the devil, the world and even our own sinful flesh that hangs on through all our days in this life. This faith purifies us from the love of possessions, money and pleasures, seeking first the kingdom of God trusting that everything else we need He will provide us. Such hearts then produce the good fruits of faith with patience.

     Martin Luther said, we must “not become disturbed when we see that there are more who despise than accept the Word.” For “the fault lies not with the Word nor with the one who preaches…but the fault of the soil which is not good.” So we keep preaching and hearing and inviting all to receive the Word of God, that is, is receive Jesus Christ Who is the mighty Word, Who by his bloody cross has made satisfaction for our sin and gives new, eternal life in the forgiveness of our hardness and sin. Unlike plant seeds, the seed of the Word of God has the power to actually change the hard path, clear away the stones and thorns, to soften hearts to receive repentance and faith and become good soil that produces the fruits of faith with patience.

      Lord, plow the trodden way,
         And clear the stone away;
      Tear out the weed and sow the seed.
         Prepare our hearts your Word to heed
      That we good soil may be.

        Begin, O Lord, with me! [LW 338:3]