Lord, Grant That We May Hear, Read, Mark, Learn, And Inwardly Digest Your Word

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In today’s Divine Service we prayed after the Hymn of Praise that the Lord would grant us the ability to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures, so that we might embrace and ever hold fast to the blessed hope of everlasting life.  But why did we pray this?  We prayed this because in today’s gospel reading we heard the sobering truth that many of the seeds that were scattered by the sower, that is the farmer, did not take root and did not bear fruit. 

Now, in case you didn’t notice, in today’s Gospel reading Jesus is speaking in a parable.  A parable is the taking of two different things or stories and laying them side by side to make a comparison and to teach a main point.  Thus, Jesus is speaking about a farmer who is scattering seed among and upon the different plots of soil.  Like pulling a heavy sword out of its sheath, the farmer reaches deeply into his pouch and pulls out large handfuls of seed and proceeds to liberally cast them far and wide upon various soil conditions.  These seeds are cast upon paths, rocky ground, thorns, and good soil.  Some of the seeds take root; others are snatched up by birds, whereas other seed is scorched by the hot sun.  In other words, what Jesus is doing by teaching this parable is that He is “answering the question of why, despite his ongoing ministry of words and deeds, so many people in Israel [were] not responding in faith.”[1] 

Let me explain a bit further. The farmer represents Jesus, the seed represents the Word of God (i.e., the Gospel), and the soil represents you and me.  What this means and what we must keep in mind is that as soil, “we can do nothing to add to the power of the Word of God; [however], we certainly can do something to impede its power.”[2]  Yes, our sin is like a hard crust over the soil that needs to be cracked.  As crisp soil we are barren, unable to produce anything, and more often than not, we have way “too many thorns in our lives—such things as carelessness, indifference, worry, materialism, and pleasure—[that] can choke the word of God and inhibit its success.”[3]

There is also another reason why we pray that we would be granted the ability to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures and that is because the “prince of demons is at work . . . quickly snatching away the Gospel seed.”[4]  Yes, “Satan knows the gospel’s power and doesn’t want to give it a chance to work.”[5]  He wants to steal, kill, and destroy your faith and attempts to do so by snatching the Gospel seed away from you.

Indeed, soil hardened by sin, the evil one devouring, and thorns within one’s heart will make the planting and results of the seed unfruitful.  Seeds sown will bounce off of crusty and petrified hearts.  Seeds sown into weeds will be choked out.  Seeds cast into shallow soil will be scorched.  Surely, this is the sober truth that Jesus is sharing in today’s parable.  This is the reason why many during His time rejected His message.  Furthermore, it is also the reason why faithful scattering of the seed (i.e., declaring God’s Word) does not always produce the results that one may expect or hope for.  Yes, Jesus literally attracted thousands of people to Him, but toward the end of His ministry He was only left with the Apostle John and some women at the cross, where he bled and died alone. 

Truly, the sowing of the seed of the Gospel does not ‘ensure’ or ‘guarantee’ automatic success according to the popular ways of our marketing culture.  It does not necessarily work “in the sense of attracting droves of believers and not inciting opposition.”[6]

This serious truth from today’s parable may cause us to attempt to manipulate, manage, fertilize, and plow the soil.  We may say to ourselves, “If we can just ‘fix’ the soil and improve its conditions, then the seeds will be planted and growth will happen more effectively!”  While these intentions are noble, we need to keep in mind that we cannot—I repeat—we cannot plow, manage, and fertilize the soil.  We neither have the ability nor the tools to do such a task.  Thus, this too is a work of God to and for us.  In a word, “our sins serve to form a hard crust that has to be cracked and broken open.  God does this [through] the ploughshare of His holy law, which ploughs us over and lays bare what lurks beneath.”[7]  My friends, “only a miracle of God can make the heart good soil for the gospel seed.”[8]  Our hearts are just too hard, our wills are just too bent inward; the soil is like set concrete. 

Thus we pray, “Lord, grant us the ability to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest your Word so that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”

Thankfully, God’s Word is like fire that melts; it is like a hammer that breaks rock into pieces.[9]  You, who have ears, hear!  The Law of God comes to us mainly to get things ready.  The Law of God uncovers our sin, produces remorse, and brings forth the terrors of hell, death, and wrath.  It drives us to desperation as it rightly should.  It stirs the soil, breaks up the crusty layer, and disturbs the weeds.  This is good for without the Law of God, the soil cannot receive the good seed of the Gospel.  Beware my friends of preaching and teaching that avoids the Law, for the Law is indeed good even though it hurts at times.  The Law must be proclaimed to you and me before the Gospel, otherwise the Gospel will have no effect.  To paraphrase several of our Lutheran forefathers, “We must be preached into hell before we can be preached into heaven.  We must be made to realize that we are sick unto death before the Gospel can restore us to health.  The Law must first reduce us to nothing in order that we may be made to be something” and I might add that the soil needs to be tilled, stirred, cracked, and mixed before the Gospel seed is cast and before it takes root. 

After the Law does its work on you and me, “the little seeds of the Gospel are sown into our [mixed, tilled, and stirred] soil. In those seeds is life. . . . The Lord puts seeds into your soil.  With His words He is sowing into you what those words say and convey with their potential fruit. . . . [These seeds] do not derive anything from us.  His words come to us from outside ourselves.  They are what God gives us to hold on to Him by” [10] and they are Words that hold us.  My friends, without God’s Words we are barren soil left without the ability to reach for the Gospel seed and left desperately trying to find the Gospel seed.  However, take comfort dear flock for the Gospel seed comes to you.  Yes, the Gospel seed is not a limited commodity stashed away in a silo.  Rather, it is liberally dispersed and cast to you every week of every year.  This Gospel seed is cast out to you whether there is rain, snow, sleet, or hail.  Yes, the Lord has given to the church pastors to proclaim not their own word, but His Word from pulpits just like this one.  Yes, every week at this Divine Service through the liturgy, through the absolution, through the hymns, through the readings, through the sermon, and through the Holy Supper, this Gospel seed is sowed and cast into your very soul unto salvation.  The Gospel “tells of a love so great it’s hard to imagine.  God loved the world of sinners, [you], to the point that he would send and sacrifice the Son he loved so dearly!  Jesus loved [you] so much that he willingly took [your] punishment on himself.  That saving love penetrates [your] hearts and gives birth to faith and trust.  There is a hidden, miraculous power in the seed of the word[—for you].”[11]

Indeed, today we open our empty hands while confessing “Lord, we thank you that you have sent forth Your Word among us rooting us in the Gospel and making us steadfast in the faith, even unto death.  We thank you that you join this Word to simple bread and wine so that we might continually receive Your Son’s body and blood—for us.”  Thank you for granting us the ability to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest your Word so that we may continually embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the Word, Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Mathew 11:2-20:34: Concordia Commentary Series (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 680.

[2] Francis C. Rossow, Gospel Handles: Finding New Connections in Biblical Texts (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2001), 51.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sermon Studies on the Gospels: Series A, ed. Richard D. Balge (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1989), 254.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Gibbs, Mathew 11:2-20:34: Concordia Commentary Series, 687.

[7] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 365.

[8] Sermon Studies on the Gospels: Series A, 256.

[9] See Jeremiah 23:29.

[10] Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis, 365-366.

[11] Sermon Studies on the Gospels: Series A, 256.

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