Four Students of the Word
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 8:4-15 4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
This parable is about the four students of the Word. Jesus uses the analogy of soils to describe each of the four students. All four are people in the church. Sitting on the pews beside you this morning are all four of these students. For Jesus is addressing this parable to his followers who were listening to his teachings and observing his miracles. He was not talking to his enemies, the Pharisees or Sadducees, nor was he talking to the pagan nations or gentiles, but to the people of God who followed him and listened to him. And among the crowds there were all four kinds of hearers, just as today in the church are all four kinds of hearers.
However, this is not to be applied to specific people, as if the one sitting next to you is one soil, and the person in front of you is another. Rather, each of you falls into each category of soil. So, hear the four-fold way Jesus describes you!
The sower is Jesus, and the seed is His word. The very word which is read and preached to you every Sunday morning. The sower sows the seed on all four soils. Just as in the church all of you receive the word, but you listen in different ways.
The first student, or soil, is a hard, dry, path, well trampled down underfoot. Instead of the seed going down into the soil, the birds come along and devour it.
But the Lord in his desire that all hear and believe, casts the seed everywhere, on all types of soil. He did not sit down and try to figure out who he would preach to, or what kind of people would be more receptive of his message. Or what kind of ministry he would do to make the most people follow him. He sowed the seed to all people.
Other seed fell on the rocks. It started to sprout and grow. But because it had no moisture, it eventually withered away before growing to maturity.
Some of the seed also fell on soil with thorns and weeds which grew up along with the seed and choked it out, so that this soil did not produce full grown plants either.
But, a small amount of seed, fell on fertile soil and grew to maturity and produced fruit. Notice, that of all the different types of soil, only a small portion of the seed fell on good soil. The largest portion of seed was lost on poor soil, in the rocks, and among thorns and did not produce fruit.
So much for the details of the parable. Now for the explanation which Jesus himself provides.
The first hearer of the word is like the soil of a hard and trampled down path. How so? The word, like seed broadcast on the road, never had a chance to sink in. Instead, it was devoured by the devil who distorted it, twisted it, caused doubt, and plucked it out of the ear of the hearer.
These are the ones who sit in church faithfully, perhaps every Sunday. Those who profess to be Christians, and go through the actions or being religious. Those who hear the word preached, but it goes in one ear and out the other. You don’t pay attention to it or believe it. You listen to God’s Word like it was any other trifle and only come to preaching because of custom. These go away again, and at the end of the year they know as little of God’s word as at the beginning. It does not go into your heart nor do you live by it.
It includes those who read God’s word on your own, you just read through it to get a certain amount covered each day, but do not pay attention to what is being said nor put it into practice. It also applies to those who spend most of your time reading loads of Christian books or magazines, or listening to sermons on the TV, or receiving email devotions from every Christian ministry, instead of studying and meditating on the Bible itself. These, too, can distract you from the Word. These are all ways of the devil to pluck God’s word away from you or to distort its meaning while making you feel you are being very good and pious Christians.
The second soil are those students of the Word who hear and believe. You are baptized and confirmed. You receive the word with joy and begin to grow in the faith. You are zealous at first, very active in church business and very excited to tell others about what Jesus has done for you. You cry, “Look what Jesus has done for me. How he has fixed up the mess of my life. How he has taken control of my life and broken my bad habits and made straight my tortured ways.”
But when trials come along, when serious sickness strikes you or a member of your family, or when your kids rebel, or a feud breaks out in your family, or you lose your job, suddenly that faith you had turns to doubt, worry, depression, sorrow and you can no longer bear the burden of your trials. This is the temptation of scarcity which the devil tempted Jesus with in the desert. You start to doubt that God loves you or that you are truly God’s child. You get angry with God and turn from him. You may even say in your heart, “If there were a loving God, he would not allow such things to happen to a me,” and you turn to unbelief.
The third soil are students of the word very similar to the second. You too hear and believe. You are baptized and confirmed. Your faith begins to grow like budding plants and leaves form. But, you see the prosperity and success that the world offers, the money, the job promotions, the nice homes and fancy cars. You fall in love with these things and pretty soon you are serving mammon and not God. This is the temptation of prosperity, another of the ways the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness by taking him up a mountain and showing him the glory of all the kingdoms of the world. You are attracted by the pleasures of your flesh. You sit in the pews of the church, because you want to hear the gospel of prosperity preached. You think that coming to church will find help that will make you more successful and prosperous. You want to hear strategies for getting out of debt. How to grow your business. Ways to have a successful marriage. Or encouragement that makes you feel better and more motivated. You turn on the TV and watch the peddlers of success theology, or prosperity and riches and that excites you more than a theology of the cross which promises suffering and trial your whole Christian life.
But the fourth soil are those who hear the word preached and take it to heart and live by it every day. You hold to the promises God makes you in times of trial and trouble. You look only to the goodness and mercy of God which you hear of in his word. You persevere in faith through the strength you receive in Holy Communion. You stand firm against the temptations of the world and the desires of your sinful flesh. By the work of the Holy Spirit, through his word, you hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
So much for the interpretation of this parable. Now what spiritual lesson does it have for us Christians? First, turn to the word. Gladly hear it and learn it. Don’t spend all your time hearing other teachers talk about the word, reading every online devotion you can find, seeking nourishment in books and magazines written by men, but hear the word of God directly as he has spoken it in Scripture. Let Scripture be your daily devotion and guide. Seek the Word of God in sound preaching and in the Sacrament of the Altar. Desire His word; thirst for it. Come to church with craving and expectation of hearing God speak to you.
You are daily in the devil’s kingdom. He ceases neither day nor night to sneak up on you and to kindle unbelief in your heart and wicked thoughts. Therefore, you must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. The Word of God is so effective that whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, it is bound never to be without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts. For these words are not lazy and dead, but are creative, living words.
Therefore, make a plan to read and study God’s word daily. Whether it be to read a book a week, or a chapter a day. And don’t neglect to read at least one Psalm a day. Nevertheless, don’t become a slave to your plan. Read and meditate on the word until you understand it and it sinks into your heart and you put it into practice. If it takes longer than the time allotted for that portion of scripture, spend more time. It’s OK to get behind schedule, for the God who wrote his word is also the God who created time.
Then, if you still do not understand, seek out instruction from your pastor or a commentary recommended by him. Include the Lutheran Confessions in your reading plan to keep you focused on the true doctrine and pure gospel.
As you study the word, pray it back to God. Thank him for the promises and the lessons he teaches in that portion of the Bible. Confess any sins that the law points out. Ask him to help you understand and take it to heart. Then praise him for sending his Son to die on the cross for you and save you for eternity. Praise him for the blood he poured over you from the cross that cleanses you from all spot and sin.
The result is that the Word of God will produce its fruit in you. The fruit of faith which is love for your neighbor, comes only by hearing the Word of God. Love that is selfless, sacrificing for others. Love that does not seek your own gain or profit or thanks, but seeks the good of your neighbor without pay or reward in return. That is the love of Christ for you. Love that forgives the offense of your brother and puts it away and drowns it in the flood of God’s mercy toward you. God help us all! Amen.