Luke 8: 4-15
February 16, 2020 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The devil, the world, and our sinful nature are the three enemies of the soul. They are the source of temptation. They stand against us as a sort of unholy trinity. Luther cites them twice in the Small Catechism in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer. He explains that God’s will is done when the evil will of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature is broken and hindered and also that when we pray for deliverance from temptation we are praying that we be delivered from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.
Luther didn’t make up that unholy trinity. It has long been recognized in the Church. One of the places it comes from is the parable of the Sower. (1) The birds that snatch the seed from the trodden path represent the devil who takes the Word of God out of the hearts of those who heard it but did not believe. (2) The cares of this world are depicted as thorns. They want to choke our faith to death. (3) And our sinful nature, which is obsessed with itself, is represented by the shallow, rocky soil that kills plants by denying them moisture.
We also see this wicked triad, the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, in Christ’s own temptation. Satan attacks down three avenues. (1) His temptation that Christ worship him is the most direct and obvious. The devil wants to replace the Father. (2) The attack from the world happens when he takes Jesus up to the pinnacle of the Temple and asks Him to jump. He wants Jesus to make the false claim that this bodily life is all that really matters. (3) The flesh attacks when Jesus is tempted to think that bread is always good and pain is always bad, and that He should take for Himself.
Part of the point that Jesus makes in the parable is that the Kingdom is meant for everyone, the seed goes out indiscriminately and to unplowed and unlikely fields, but not everyone receives it. Jesus, Himself, does not have a 100% success rate. Some reject His Word out of hand. Others believe for a time but then fall away. We shouldn’t be surprised that our religion is not particularly popular with our neighbors or even with the entirety of our extended families. Many are called, but few are chosen. This shouldn’t fill us with sorrow but with awe and gratitude. The question isn’t why aren’t there more here but rather how in the world did we get to be here?
More pointed, though, is that our faith is under attack. We have heard the Word of God and believed it, but we should not become complacent or fail to note that we have yet to reach the goal. We must repent and believe. We must strive by the means of Grace to remain in this Kingdom. We have the free will to leave it, to reject God. He will not hold us here against our will as prisoners or slaves. We ask for grace to resist the temptations that attack us, that God would break and hinder all that attempts to lure us away, even that traitorous part of ourselves that wants to sin.
Based on Jesus’ explanation, we can discern a difference between those who heard and believed yet failed to produce a crop. Some had shallow roots. They fell away in time of temptation. They weren’t really ready for temptation. Their roots didn’t go deep enough into the Scripture, or into the Scriptures at all, and when attacked they had no defense. Others had depth of soil and plenty of moisture, but they foolishly made room for carnal pleasure and were choked out. They knew the Scriptures but were misled by vanity and lust into thinking they were mature enough to enjoy their sin but hold it in check. We should prepare for both attacks and also recognize that Satan is well-skilled and experienced in this war. He custom makes our temptations. We cannot stand against him on our own. Nor can we trust our own wisdom or strength of will. We must take constant refuge in the Word and Sacraments.
Notice how Jesus overcame His temptations. He quoted three different Old Testament passages. He said: (1) “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (2) “You shall not tempt the Lord your God,” and (3) “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” In some sense, any of those three passages would have worked in any and all of the attacks, as would have a host of other passages. The devil hates the Word of God. All things are sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. That is how the devil and his demons are driven off.
In keeping the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” Jesus keeps all the commandments. He does not find Himself in difficult ethical situations where He can’t figure out what to do and things aren’t black and white or He doesn’t know which Bible passage to grab. He is holy and righteous and all of Holy Scripture serves His will. He has no internal struggle because He isn’t really interested in finding an easier way or being successful in the way that men count success. He simply loves God the Father and that love guides Him into how to love His neighbor and makes it obvious when something is wrong. Every passage of Scripture is ready for Him and sits in His heart and on His lips ready to be deployed.
You don’t have that advantage. You have faith and you love the Word of God, but you also have doubt. Your guilt has been removed, your sins forgiven, but you still have memory of sin and a desire to sin. You are easily distracted and seek ever to avoid hardship. You cannot face temptation on your own and come away unscathed or even without any sin. But you don’t need to. You have an advantage over Jesus. You have a Savior, a Man willing to pay your debts, to take your punishment, a God whose mercy endures forever. He will prune you and dig around you and apply fertilizer and tend you. You live by His Word. You are guided by it to repent and believe.
In this parable, you aren’t the Sower who must find just the right word for each type of soil or each attack. You are the plant. You are the fruit of the seed that the Sower sows. You have sprung from the Word, baptized into the Sower by water and Word, nourished in forgiveness by the Sacrament of the Altar that He speaks into being and by His Absolution. Christ overcomes the devil by His Word in you. That is where the battle is fought. You are the prize, the bounty, the pearl of great price. You are the sheep, the coin, and the son that Christ seeks. You are the hundredfold harvest of His grace that makes angels and the Holy Trinity rejoice.
Your job is to hear, to receive, and to live in the sunshine of His Word. Don’t sell yourself short or believe the devil’s lies about you. You are sinner, to be sure, and you are weak and unworthy, yet at the same time, it is God Himself who has called and planted you. Your desire to hear God’s Word, to live according to it, to be His people. Jesus died for your doubts and sins. And there is more to you than sin. Sin does not rule you. You desire to be with God, to receive His gifts, to be like Him. Where does that desire come from? It comes from God whose Name is upon you. He has given you a good and noble heart. That heart knows it is dependent upon God and cannot save itself. It looks to Christ for every good thing. And that faith pleases your Father in heaven and overcomes the devil. What of that!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.