Click here for video
Today we have one of the best known parables of Jesus’ ministry – the parable of the Sower. He goes out to sow, casting seed as he walks. But the seed falls on different kinds of soil. Some seed falls on the path . . . gobbled up. Other seed falls on rocky ground. It shoots up and then withers. Other seed falls in among thorns. It sprouts and gets choked to death. But some seed fell on good ground. It sprouts. Its roots sink deep into the rich soil. It grows and produces 30, 60, even 100-fold! Nothing short of a miracle.
So which ground are you? That’s the question this parable seems to be asking, isn’t it? What soil are you? Are you sure you’re the rich soil? What if Satan, what if the Accuser comes and snatches the seed from you? Could that happen to you? What if the cost of discipleship proves too high, the sacrifices it requires too steep and the word that was planted shrivels up and dies? Could that happen to you? What if the cares and worries of the world, the financial burdens, the family issues, the day-to-day grind simply overwhelm you and choke the Word? Could that happen to you? Are you the good soil? And how can you be sure? The fact that you’re in church this morning is a pretty good sign, I suppose. But who knows what the future will hold? Are you the rich soil . . . or something else?
When I was young and still had it in mind that I’d be a musician, I used to love trying to play pieces I heard on CD or on the radio. Some piece would absolutely captivate me, and I’d have to go and try to play it. So, eventually I’d track down the music and give it a go. Often it was something by J. S. Bach. Now if you’re familiar with his music, you’ll know that he composed during what’s called the Baroque Era. Baroque literally means “ornamented”. Bach, Handel, and others would take a relatively simple melody and they’d ornament it. Bach wrote with trills and flourishes, runs and arpeggios. The harpsichord and violins race while the trumpets and oboes proclaim. And timpani drums thunder underneath. Yet woven into all this glorious sound is the melody.
I would get hold of a complicated piece of Bach, and I’d get so caught up in all the ornamentation and technical challenges that I’d lose the melody! And only when I listened to the piece performed by a real musician did I hear it, “Oh, so that’s the melody.”
With the parable of the Sower, actually with all the parables, it can be really easy to lose the melody. It can be really easy to get so caught up in illustrations and extrapolations that we lose sight of the main point. In this parable, it’s very easy to start wondering, “Which ground am I?” And when you start wondering, two things can happen. You can become arrogant: “I’m obviously the rich soil! Look at all the good things I do! Look at all the bad things I don’t do. Look how dedicated I am to my church!” But focusing your eyes on the soil can also lead to despair.
How many of you can truly say that there is not a doubt in your mind that you would remain steadfast through persecution? In his hymn “A Mighty Fortress”, Luther wrote, “Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away . . .” These things are more easily sung than spoken and considered. And can any of you honestly say that the cares of this world have not impacted your faith? Can you honestly say that keeping up with the mortgage payment, keeping your insurance up to date, managing retirement accounts hasn’t raised the weeds of fear in your life? Can you honestly say that in trying to be an attentive spouse, in trying to be a dedicated parent, the weeds of distraction haven’t wound their way around your heart? And who among you can truthfully say that you have always heard the Word of God and responded as He wills, as He would have you act? Isn’t it the truth that in each of us, each of these grounds reside?
It’s true. But when that becomes the focus, when we are put in the center, we’ve lost the melody. We’ve lost sight of what the parable is really about. In Jesus speaks no fewer than six parables. Five of them begin this way: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .” Or to put it another way, “The reign of God is like . . .” The parable of the Sower is not about the grounds. It’s not about the various temptations we might face. It’s not even about the seed. It’s about the reign of God. It’s about the Sower.
And what kind of Sower is He? He’s the Sower who goes out and casts the seed. He spreads it here and there and everywhere. He’s not careful. He’s not meticulous. He’s not exacting or prudent or economic. He doesn’t carefully search around for the best furrow in the best soil. He grabs it by the fistful and throws it all around. He scatters it liberally. The reign of God is something that. He offers His grace, He extends the offer of forgiveness and eternal life even to those He knows will not receive it. That’s the kind of Sower He is. That’s what the Reign of God is like.
The Reign of God of God is a bit like a man who has a field. He made sure to plant only good seed. But as the plants grew, weeds came up along with them. Apparently, an enemy had secretively sowed bad seed in the field too. But the man simply abides the weeds. He doesn’t tear them out. He doesn’t spray them with herbicide. No, He cares so much about the wheat that He will not risk losing it. The man is God. The wheat is you. God would be justified in destroying His whole rebellious creation because of sin. But He doesn’t. He bears with it. And He bears with it for your sake.
The Reign of God is a bit like a man who plants a mustard seed. It was one of the smallest seeds known in the Ancient Near East. But that seed, when planted, grows tall, and tall. Branches reach out like open arms to welcome birds seeking a nesting place. The farmer is God. And the plant is His Reign that has more than enough room for you.
The Reign of God is a bit like this. It’s a bit like a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field. And he is absolutely smitten with it. Immediately, he liquidates all his assets. He sells His stocks. He sells his car. He sells his house for cash. And he goes and buys the field just for that buried treasure. You are not the man who ought to sell everything for the sake of the Gospel. No, the man is God . . . and you are the treasure. And that is the Gospel – that you are God’s treasure, that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God sold the farm for you.
But you look at yourself, you look at your past, even your recent past; you look at your heart, that secret place where you hide your ill thoughts and hidden motivations, that place no one but God can see, and you know that there’s no way that you are worth all of that! And you’re right. You aren’t. But God did it anyway. That’s what His reign is like. And that’s why it’s called “Gospel” . . . that’s why it’s called Good News.
The Reign of God is a bit like a merchant who finds one solitary pearl that so captivates him, that he sells everything else he has to buy it. Apparently, this merchant doesn’t know about diversified investment portfolios. He actually does put all his eggs in one basket. He risks it all for the sake of that one pearl. God is the merchant. You are that pearl. And Jesus did not even consider His own life too high a price to pay for you. And that’s why it’s called “Gospel” . . . that’s why it’s called Good News.
The Reign of God is like a net that catches up fish of all kinds . . . small and large, slow and fast, drab and colorful. It catches them all up. And when the time is fulfilled, God will set all things right. He will separate out those whom He Himself has made righteous. And His reign will envelope all the earth.
Until that day, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to make yourself, your heart, your righteousness and lack of it, the subject. It’s easy to forget that you are God’s pearl, that you are God’s treasure. Until the day that God sets all things right, it’s easy to get discouraged by the evil and chaos that surround us. It’s easy to get discouraged by the fact that the weeds outnumber the wheat, that the field seems to be overrun with tares, much like my own yard. It’s easy to get discouraged.
But this morning, God would encourage you. God would have you remember that Jesus is the subject. He is the One who sows, who slings around the precious seed, who lets it fly, who grants it growth, thirty, sixty, one hundred fold. This morning, God would encourage you by reminding you of the mind-boggling, logic-defying, speech-ending truth that you, sinful and broken person though you are, that you are precious to Him . . . like a treasure . . . like a priceless pearl. God would encourage you by reminding you that there was nothing He was not willing to sacrifice for you. He sacrificed His throne, His honor, His dignity, His power, and even His life . . . all to make you His own.
So this morning, if you are discouraged, allow me to serve as God’s herald, His messenger. Because, you see, He knew that His treasured people would be become discouraged. He knew that at times they would lose sight of what His Reign of grace is really like. He knew how easy it would be for you to lose sight of the Truth that you are His treasure, His pearl. And so He decided to hold a feast, because there’s nothing that encourages the discouraged like a feast. And this morning, He has sent me, He has commissioned me to invite you to His feast. Here, as always, He holds nothing back. Here you have His encouragement, His grace, His promise, His forgiveness. Here you have His body and His blood. So if you’re discouraged, if your heart is heavy, if your mind is anxious, if your conscience is troubled, come and be encouraged by King who reigns over you and for you. Amen.