Sermon for Sexagesima based on Matthew 20:1-16
Dear hearers of the Word of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus tells a scary parable in today’s Gospel lesson. He says that many of those who hear God’s saving Gospel will still end up in hell. He says many people who are believers during their lives will still end up in hell.
There are three enemies to the Word of God bringing about the fruit of faith: the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. The devil snatches away God’s Word that is sown like the seed on the path that was trampled underfoot and snatched away by birds. The world brings about testing and affliction so that faith withers like the seed sown on the rock. The sinful flesh chokes faith with cares and riches and pleasures of life as the seeds sown among the thorns were choked.
This means that very few people will be saved. We can sure see it in our day. There has been a mass exodus of people who have left the church and many more who were never part of the church. We see our numbers dwindling, as is common in churches everywhere. But it is not uncommon that believers would be in the minority.
In the time of Noah, only eight souls were saved in the ark out of all the souls on the earth – Noah with his sons and their wives (Gen. 7:13). In the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah only four souls were saved – Lot, his wife, and his daughters (Gen. 19:16). Even then, Lot’s wife’s faith was choked by the life and its pleasures she was leaving behind, and she was turned into a pillar of salt, reducing those saved to three (Gen. 19:26). In the days of Elijah, there were only 7,000 men out of all of Israel who had not bowed the knee to the false god Baal (I Ki. 19:18). Of the 600,000 men who left Egypt through the Red Sea, only two made it into the Promised Land – Joshua and Caleb. The rest were overthrown in the wilderness (Nu. 14:38; I Cor. 10:5). As Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14)
The devil, the world, and our sinful nature are always working against the Word of God, so that it would bear no fruit in us; that the Word would be trampled and snatched from us; that the Word would wither; that the Word would get choked.
When you hear the Word of God, does it penetrate your heart and cause you to turn away from your sin, or do you continue to live in the sin from which the Word tells you to turn away? A hard heart tramples the Word underfoot and the Word is then snatched away by the devil.
Is your faith rooted in the Word of God which you daily study and regularly hear, or is your faith without root and when trials and tribulations come, you will fall away?
Is your faith of secondary importance, so that you hear it and read it only after you have dealt with all your dealings with and pursuits of the cares and riches and pleasures of life? If so, your faith will be choked by the things you hold to have higher importance.
Scripture tells us, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor. 10:12) Do not presume that God is okay with the sins from which you have not turned just because He has shown you kindness and been patient with you. Don’t you know that His kindness and patience are meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4)
To those who refuse His counsel and won’t have His correction, God says, “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock you when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then you will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them” (Prov. 1:26-32).
God does not will the death of anyone, but that we would all turn from our sins and live. (Ezek. 33:11) That is why God sends His Word to be sown everywhere. He wants it to break down hearts of rock that would trample it. He wants to water it so that it would have moisture, and clear it of thorns that would choke it. He has His Word scattered everywhere so that all might be warned to flee from the wrath to come and take shelter under the cover of Christ’s righteousness.
You cannot bring yourself to faith, neither can you keep yourself in the faith. God is the one who gives you faith. God is the one who keeps you in the faith. But He doesn’t do it through magic. He brings you to faith through water and the Word. He keeps you in the faith through His Word and through the Sacrament of the Altar.
God knows the devil is after us. He knows the world is full of trials and temptations. He knows that we are weak and frail.
Therefore He scatters the seed of His Word to our ears which says “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.” (Ps. 103:10-13)
God shows you compassion for the sake of Jesus, who was shown no compassion. No one had pity on Him when He was charged with all of your sin. In His suffering, pain, and death, He was only mocked. He was even forsaken by God the Father, so that He would show compassion to you. Jesus suffered and died for your sins and sends His seed to be scattered to you, so that you would believe and be saved.
The seed that God sows is His saving Word – His Word that is connected to the water of Baptism to save you; His saving Word that is spoken to you in Absolution; His Word with which He gives us the true body and blood of Jesus to save us from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.
God’s Word has produced faith in you and keeps you in the faith. The devil only snatches away the Word that does not penetrate a hard heart. He cannot snatch away the Word that is in your heart. Faith only withers if you believe that you have root in yourself so you no longer need to learn God’s Word or study it. Faith that is being nourished by the Word of God and the Lord’s Supper will not wither. The cares and riches and pleasures of this life can only choke faith that is of secondary importance; when we have higher priorities than our faith.
Hold fast to the Word of God. Turn away from sin. Do not fear the trials of this life and do not cling to the cares and pleasures of this life.
God’s Word that is sown is not dead, but living and active. Therefore it will produce fruit with patience in you. It will grow and yield a hundredfold. It will not be snatched, it will not wither, and it will not be choked. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.