What is it that unbelievers can’t be told that believers must be told?
We usually don’t think of it that way. Usually, we think that believers have all the information—therefore—we go and tell the world.
To Jesus’ disciples—and we can understand that to include all Christians—“It has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables…” (Luke 8:10).
Jesus teaches by means of parables to divide sheep from goats—those who hear the Word of God gladly, living pious lives from those who scorn God’s Word and serve their own flesh.
The unbelievers who have hardened their hearts against God’s Word will not listen, so the Lord turns away from them and hides knowledge from them.
We can look at the Parable of the Sower that way, and that’s a tough one to mess up since Jesus explains it:
“The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who’ve heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 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. And as for what fell among the thorns, they’re those who hear, but as they go on their way they’re choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:11-14).
We could spend our time examining soil-types, talking about how God cultivates bad soil into good by the work of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Word of God—and that would be helpful.
That’s one necessary part of the parable.
And—it’s necessary today for us to understand that unbelievers don’t and can’t bear fruit with patience.
Jesus and St. Luke want you to know that you’re saved by grace—through faith—not by your works—but by the work of the Holy Spirit—through the proclamation of the Word of God.
And—Jesus and St. Luke want you to know that faith doesn’t stop at hearing the Word of God.
It’s only the good and faithful soil that hears the Word, holds it fast in an honest and good heart, and bears fruit with patience (cf. Luke 8:15).
The Parable of the Sower shows us that there are, ultimately, two responses to hearing the Word of God:
Believing it unto eternal life and obeying it while yet in this earthly life. Actually seeking opportunities to learn and grow in piety and faith and putting off the world.
And…Rejecting the Word of God. Disobeying it. Lazily not caring, thinking yourself secure, and going to hell.
That rejection takes many forms, as the different types of soil show us.
But believing the Word of God always produces fruit. The amount of fruit doesn’t matter—there’s no shame in being a simple Christian or faithfully pursuing a life the world despises.
But bearing fruit with patience is not optional.
Two paragraphs after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).
That’s the proper response to hearing God’s Word. To hear what He says and to do it.
St. Luke makes this point again and again.
Mary, when she finds out she’ll bear the Christ-child, says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
She believed the Word of God and acted accordingly.
When Mary visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).
She believed the Word of God and acted accordingly.
In chapter six, Jesus says, “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he’s like: he’s like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48).
To hear and to do is wisdom, Jesus says.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches the lawyer—just as the Samaritan showed mercy to the man who fell among robbers—just so—you should “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Not only should you believe what’s true—you should go and do as well.
And in chapter eleven, “a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to [Jesus], ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But [Jesus] said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’” (Luke 11:27-28).
Again, and again, and again—Jesus teaches or Luke shows what discipleship looks like: Hear the word of God. Believe it unto everlasting life. At that point, grafted into the vine, you’re saved.
And then—we hold fast to the Word of God in an honest and good heart, bearing fruit in patient obedience to God and service to neighbor. At that point, grafted into the vine, the branches bear fruit.
Jesus and St. Luke want you to know what discipleship is: you can’t be a Christian by only hearing the Word of God. While hearing the Word of God is how we’re saved—Jesus doesn’t say “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God.” He says, rather, “Blessed…are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
A Christian does both and understands that faith alone saves and that faith is never alone. We hear “the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
You need to be aware of this, because there’s a trend in the preaching of the Lutheran Church as though congregations contain no believers, no Christians.
What’s said is true—but not enough gets said.
It’s like this: If either of my sons pick up a brown recluse spider, and upon picking it up if they ask me whether or not it’s poisonous, and I say—No.
What have I just done? I’ve just told them the truth. Brown recluse spiders are not poisonous.
They’re venomous. They’re not poisonous.
In that hypothetical, what I said was true, but it was unhelpful because there was more that needed to be said.
So when you hear that you’re saved apart from works. That’s exactly true.
But if that’s all that’s all you ever hear. If you never hear: “And this is where Scripture teaches us to do good works. Here’s the list, the Ten Commandments, where God reveals His will for a Christian’s daily life. And here’s where Jesus teaches us what discipleship looks like, how we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
If all you ever hear is how you’re saved—if you never hear what the Christian life looks like or how to increase in good works—then something necessary is lacking.
Jesus and St. Luke have a very specific work in mind in the context of the Parable of the Sower. But you would never know it unless you’re comfortable hearing that Christians “bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15), that is, they obey God’s Word.
I’ve told you what Jesus said two paragraphs after today’s gospel lesson: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).
But here’s what He says one paragraph after today’s gospel lesson: “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light” (Luke 8:16).
That’s what discipleship looks like.
In the proclamation of the Word of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we hear and believe unto life everlasting. That’s God’s Work.
And, “hearing the word, [we] hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). That’s your responsibility as a Christian.
The Light shines in the darkness.
If you have and know the Light, you don’t cover it with a jar or put it under a bed.
Because, if you believe the Word…
If it’s true…
It’s of infinite importance that you get that Word to others who are in need.
According to C.S. Lewis, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
You don’t take the most important Word, Jesus, the Light of the World, our salvation, and put it under a jar or a bed where it’s of no use to people walking in darkness.
If it is the most important thing then you live and act differently every day because of it.
You put the Light of the World on a stand, so that those who enter may see the Light and see the world according to the Light.
Jesus has this specific fruit in mind for you to bear:
So that others may see what has been given to you, share the Gospel.
So that those who walk in darkness can see a great light, be a Christian in front of other people.
Since you can hold fast to the Word of God and bear fruit with patience. Do it.
You know more non-Lutheran, non-church-goers than I do.
I’m not telling you to knock on doors and browbeat people into coming to church. That doesn’t work.
I mean, according to your vocation, who already knows you, who already loves you, to whom are you responsible, who do you regularly bump into?
Having heard the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience.
Share the Gospel. Invite someone to church. Bring your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your best friend, bring them to Church or Sunday School.
Is what you believe infinitely important or not important? It can’t be moderately important.
The amount of fruit you bear doesn’t matter. And bearing fruit, bearing witness, doesn’t always equate to more butts in the pews.
That’s not why we bear fruit.
That’s why we’re to bear fruit with patience.
You’re a light for those entering the household of God.
Your perseverance in the faith shows the way for those who have not heard, those who do not believe.
So hear the Word of God and believe unto everlasting life. Rejoice!
And bear fruit with patience.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Sexagesima Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt