Thursday, February 15, 2018

Jesus' Victory Over Temptation

Matthew 2:1-11 In our Old Testament lesson today we heard the story of mankind’s fall into sin—not just the fall of Adam and Eve—but the fall of all of us because of their sin.  The Bible says that “sin came into the world through one man and death spread to all men.” 
Now, we may not think that is fair—that one man’s sin has brought death to all of us-- but the fact of the matter is we too have sinned, we too have followed the deadly path of Adam—we too have gone our own way and not God’s way—and so have countless others in the family of Adam. 
God’s judgment upon Adam and Eve and upon all their children that sin equals death is perfectly just when we look at our own lives of sin.  All of us—without exception—along with the whole human family—without exception—is caught up in sin and the judgment of God rests upon us by nature.
But in the midst of that sin, when Adam and Eve ruined God’s perfect creation and doomed to death every one of their children, God stepped in. 
He sought them out, forgave them their sin, promised them that he himself would raise up a champion who would defeat Satan and restore to the human family everything we have lost on account of sin and he showed them a picture of what that would look like as he covered them in the bloody flesh of an innocent victim.
That story of sin and salvation was told again and again for thousands of years—it was shown again and again for thousands of years-- in the sacrificial worship of God’s people as believers looked to and hoped for and prayed for the promised Savior who would not be another victim of Satan and sin-- but be their conqueror and our deliverer. 
That is the One we encounter today in the wilderness One born as a member of the human family.  One who has to fight against the devil just as we do each day.
And the Good News for us who are so often wounded in this battle, is that in the same way that Adam’s sin has destroyed us, Jesus’ holy obedience and his victory over temptation has saved us. 
The Bible says that:  Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Please note that Jesus did not put himself in harm’s way spiritually—he was not the least bit cavalier about the spiritual dangers of encountering Satan, but this was the direction that his life had to go as the Savior of the world.
He was the champion promised by God.  He was the new Adam who had to get things right if we are to be saved. 
And so he took upon himself our nature- and he was born under the law-and faced temptation like every other child of Adam in the weakness of our frail human flesh.  The Bible says that:  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Please contrast this with what we saw in the Garden with Adam.  Adam and Eve lived in the perfection of God’s creation.  The universe was their playground.  Everything was made for them.  They were the pinnacle of God’s creative work and everything in the universe was theirs to use and enjoy except for one small tree.
That tree was to be their altar and pulpit where they showed their obedience to God’s commands.  It was where they exercised their faith in the goodness and promises of God.  That tree should have been for them the eternal location of their worship of God. 
But it became instead- the location of their fall- and of our destruction- and the end of God’s perfect world.
That is what Jesus encounters in the wilderness.  A place where the devil had free reign and a body that was subject to all of the frailties of our human existence.  And so it is not in the strength of Adam that Jesus fights against temptation.  It is not in a perfect creation that our Lord enters the field of spiritual battle against the devil, but in a broken, fallen world and a body that is as weak as our own.  The Bible says that:
The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
            If you know the context, you know how utterly evil and depraved these words of the devil are. 
Just a month or so earlier, Jesus entered into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John and the Holy Spirit rested upon him and Jesus heard the voice of his Father:  This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.  This IS my Son!
            And here now in the wilderness, when there is no tangible sign of his Father’s love but only his promise to lay hold of, Jesus is attacked by the devil:  If you are the Son of God  Will Jesus believe the testimony of his Father?  Or will he listen to the voice of Satan and eat what he holds out?  This is right where Adam failed and plunged the world into ruin.
Please understand—there is no sin in bearing hungry—there is no sin in desiring food to meet that need.  Adam and Eve were right when they said that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was beautiful and it would give knowledge—but God had forbidden it-- and that should have been enough for them-- and it should be enough for us—but it is not.
There is no sin in any physical desire in and of itself—God made us physical creatures.  But he has put a hedge around those desires for our own good.
He says that sex is reserved for marriage-- and food and drink are to be used in moderation-- and the Giver is to be valued above the gifts-- and yet we have cast aside the words of God regarding our lives as creatures again and again because much too often we value bread more than God just as the Israelites did in the wilderness.
But Jesus did not.  He was the new Adam who held fast to the words of his Father and he was the new Israel who valued his relationship with his Father more than food.
His life as his Father’s Son was infinitely more valuable to him than meeting some need no matter how desperate the straits-- and his Father’s words were infinitely more powerful than the devil’s temptation-- and so he took his stand on the words of his Father: 
“It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 
  Adam would not gain, but lose his life, by ignoring God’s Word and eating from the forbidden tree.  We do not gain, but lose our life, when ignore God’s word about material things and then misuse God’s good gifts. 
But Jesus believed the words of his Father.  And such is the devil’s deceitfulness that the very words of God became his next place of attack.  The Bible says that:
The devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
            Adam and Eve knew the Word of God.  They had heard the voice of the living God of the universe say, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”.  
And yet when Satan arrived on the scene, those words were the exact location of his attack, “Did God actually say that”? And then, “It’s not true”. 
And so it was that day in the wilderness that the new Adam (who has just withstood temptation by taking his stand on the Word” is attacked by Satan in the same place where dam fell—on the Word of God.  He says, “This is what the promises of God are, if you are the Son of God, put God to the test and see if he is faithful or not.” 
It is a particularly demonic mode of attack because it is an attack on the faithfulness of God and the truth of his Word and it is used against those who know God and believe his Word and it sounds so reasonable—surely I can test God in this promise and see if it is true or not.
But faith that must be proved beyond the promises of God’s Word is not faith at all—it is faithlessness.
We have all fallen victim to it.  We say to ourselves, “If God really loved me then he would do this or that.”  Or we say, “If God really loved me he would preserve me from this or that.” 
And we put God to the test by demanding something of him beyond the promises that he loves us so much that he has sent his Son into this world for us.
Jesus did not fall victim to this temptation.  There was no need to prove the faithfulness of God and the power of his promises beyond the power of his Word itself. 
He took the sword of the Spirit in hand and defeated the devil in exactly the way he was being attacked and affirms his Sonship and the Father’s love for him and his own role as the Savior of the world. 
It is here, in the saving purposes of Jesus that the devil wages his last attack.  The Bible says that:
The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
            When the devil came to Adam and Eve, they lived in the perfection of God’s creation and they literally possessed everything in the universe save one.  And that is where the devil attacked.  It is the mystery of evil that they succumbed to temptation when the lacked one small thing in the whole universe including a life with God.
But we see it all around us.  A husband and father has everything and throws it away for some fling.  A musician or artist has every gift and ability and the admiration of millions and they kill themselves.  An athlete makes it to the big leagues but ruins it all with drugs or gambling.
That is how the devil came to Jesus.  He said, “It is not enough to be God’s Son, I will give you the world”.  Please know, as Jesus did, that the devil is a liar and whatever he says he will give you is a lie that is meant to destroy you for time and eternity.
The world already belonged to Jesus.  He was the one who created it-- but now it was ruined by sin and the only way for him to reclaim it for himself was not by the lies of Satan-- but by his death on the cross and his glorious resurrection. 
The worship and service of God by man that was lost by Adam and lost by us too was reclaimed and renewed by the holy obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, an obedience unto death, so that what was lost by Adam and his children was regained by Christ for  us in his victory over temptation.  Amen.  

Return to the LORD Your God!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Return to the LORD Your God!

Joel 2:12-19 If you have your bibles open please look at the first few verses of chapter 2 and if not please listen as they are read
Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain!  Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near; a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. 
And then Joel goes on to describe just exactly what is about to befall God’s people: a plague of locusts so far-reaching that no plant of any kind will be left alive.  Crops will be devastated and millions of people will starve. 
Even today, plagues of locusts can cover hundreds of thousands of square miles and be so all-encompassing that they can block out the sun.
That was what was about to befall the people of God and it was a sign so terrifying that they thought it was ushering in the end of the world and the final judgment-- for this was not merely a sign of living in a broken world-- but the temporal judgement of the living God upon the sins of his people.
For years they had strayed away from the Lord.  For years they had turned a deaf ear to God’s prophets and chosen for themselves men who would tell them what they wanted to hear.
But now in this dark moment, God’s judgment was at hand.  It was right then, when all seemed lost, when they would experience the wrath of a holy God over his creature’s sins that our text begins—a plea from God for them to repent of this sins and return to him.
Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
            Yet, even now…Those have to be some of the sweetest words in the Bible!  Even now when all seems lost!  Even now when my sins have finally caught up with me!  Even now when the world around me is crashing down on my head and there is no one left to blame but myself!  Even now… it is not too late for me, declares the Lord.
So long as we are still living and breathing there is for us hope and a day of grace and an opportunity to return to the Lord.  That story is told again and again in the Bible. 
It is the story of God’s enduring love for a people who never seem to get it right—for a people that much too often get it really wrong.  It is the story of God seeking out Adam and Eve when they destroyed the world; the story of God sending Jonah to Nineveh; the story of the conversion of Saul and the restoration of Peter. 
It is the story of God’s love for us that will not leave us alone in our sin but calls us again and again to repent of our sins and return to him in faith.
“return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
What God is looking for in our lives is what he heard from David in the psalm: 
Against you, you only have I sinned and one evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 
All of us know how easy it is to mouth the words of the confession in public worship while at the same time having no real desire to be done with sin and go in a new way—to make a show of our sorrow. 
But what God is wanting from us is a real recognition- of our real sin- that shows itself in real sorrow -that we have sinned against our Savior God who stands ready to receive us back into fellowship with himself even when it seems to be too late.
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? 
            When Adam and Eve sinned they fled from the presence of the Lord in shame, the guilt weighing so heavily upon them that they forgot that the Lord was a God of love.  That is what sin does—it makes us forget who God really is in his love and mercy.
When we take our first few steps on the path that leads away from the Lord we can still see his goodness—we can still know him as the God who forgives. 
But the further we go on that path and the farther we get away from God—the more difficult that is to see--until finally God’s love and mercy is lost to view altogether and we are left alone with the lies of the devil who tells us it is too late and we are too far away and we have done too much for the Lord to ever take us back.  But that is a lie! 
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. 
This is the truth about God-- and this is the truth that allows us to return to him no matter how often we have failed, no matter how far we have wandered, no matter how grievously we have sinned and we can count on a Father’s welcome when we turn from our sins.
When Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son, this was the story he was telling.  The younger son did everything wrong.  He wanted nothing to do with the father, only what the father could give.  He wasted what his father gave him, he debased himself beyond imagination.  But when he repented of this, he knew he could return home because he knew his father’s love.
And while the boy was still a long way off, the father ran to him and welcomed him home and assured him he was his son.  Ever since he had left, his father’s eyes were always looking for his return and his father’s heart always yearned to pour out his love on him. 
That love that welcomes sinners even when it seems that God’s judgment cannot be escaped is what God wants every one of us to know tonight and it is why we are here.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.  Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.  Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. 
            The failures and sins of the people of God were not limited to just the common folk or just the kings or just the religious leaders—everyone was guilty and the judgment of God was poised to fall on them all, without exception—and so they would gather together without exception and confess their sins. 
So it must be for us.  It does us no good whatsoever to bewail the failures of our culture or to point the finger at our political leaders.  We are the culture.  We elected our leaders.  And our lives much too often reflect the very evil we see so clearly in the lives of others.
There is selfishness and pride and a love for material things over God’s spiritual gifts.  There are lives that are not even close to the faith we profess.  There is a lack of concern for those who are poor and weak.  And the judgment of God is that all of us deserve his wrath.
The Bible says that there is no one who does good, not even one.  The Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  The Bible says that even our good works are as filthy rags in God’s sight. 
And so the call to repentance excludes no one and instead calls every one of us to cast ourselves upon the mercy of God and beg him to spare us and then trust that he will.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
            Even in that late hour it was not too late because God remained the same loving, faithful, merciful, compassionate God he had always been.  These were his people.  He claimed them as his own.  He chose them for himself, delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and provided for them. 
And though they knew about themselves that they had failed to be who God called them to be—God had not failed them and would never fail to be the God he claimed to be:  the covenant-keeping Savior God who will always come to the aid of his repentant people.
And so they gathered together in God’s presence in the temple and they did just exactly what God’s people have always done:  confess their sins and trust in the unfailing mercy of the God who saved them.
Then and now there would never be a moment when God would fail his people.  His love can be counted on again and again. 
In their confession of sins and our  confession of sins there is no thought of deserving God’s love or earning God’s love, there is simply the glad confidence that we can return to the Lord because of who he is in mercy and forgiveness. 
Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.  The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.
            The Lord heard them, had pity on them, claimed them as his own and answered them and judgment was averted.
So it is for us here tonight.  The Lord has heard our confession of sin.  The Lord has had mercy on us and answered our need for forgiveness so that we can once again belong to him by sending his Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior.
God poured out the judgment we deserve onto his Son.  Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath that belonged to us and in its place has poured out upon us all the blessings of life in his kingdom—a full measure, pressed down and overflowing. 
And so on this Ash Wednesday we hear and heed the call of our Savior God and return to him with all our hearts for he is merciful and compassionate and abounds in steadfast love.  Amen.

Jesus' Journey to Jerusalem

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Jesus' Journey to Jerusalem

Luke 18:31-43 Taking the twelve, Jesus said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.
            Over the course of his life Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem many times to fulfill the religious requirements of the law—but this would be his final journey and he wanted his disciples to go with him. 
He wants the same for us this Lenten season--that we would travel with him to the cross.  Jesus wants us to see what he did for the salvation of the world and for our own salvation.  He wants us to once again see and know how great is the Father’s love for us.    
In the old King James Version Jesus says:  “Behold”!  In other words:  “Pay attention”!  “Feast your eyes upon this”!  “Look at what I am about to show you”!  And then Jesus tells us what we are going to see: 
He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 
What do we see as Jesus makes that journey to Jerusalem one last time?  We see the words of the prophets accomplished. 
We see Jesus ride into Jerusalem, not as a mighty warrior, but as a humble King mounted on a donkey just a Zechariah had promised.  We see Jesus pierced for our transgressions and wounded for our iniquities just as Isaiah had foretold.  We see Jesus spit upon and ridiculed as David had prophesied.  And we see Jesus stand victorious over death just as Job had looked forward to in faith.
Jesus wants us to know that he is the fulfillment of all of the promises of God—that is why he took his disciples on this final journey to Jerusalem and its why we travel with Jesus to the cross each Lenten season—so that we can once again feast our eyes of faith upon the promises God that have been fulfilled in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection—so that we can understand what it all means for our lives.  And yet, the Bible says that the disciples:
…understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
            That Jesus was handed over to the Romans—that he was mocked and shamefully treated—flogged and crucified-- is a matter of the historical record—it happened.  That Jesus rose again on the third day is a matter of the biblical record that hundreds of people bore witness to—they saw him alive.
There was nothing difficult in the words Jesus spoke about what would happen to him in Jerusalem—he had said them before.  There was nothing unusual in the crucifixion scene he described-- it happened every day in the Roman world.
And so what was the difficulty the disciples had in understanding these things?  Why couldn’t they grasp what Jesus was telling them? 
At least part of the problem is that they didn’t want to believe what their master was telling them.  To think that this terrible thing would happen to someone they loved, was unbearable-- and there had been other occasions when they tried to deny it.
People still shy away from the scandal of the cross—even in the church.  Many Christians are perfectly happy with a cross in the sanctuary but a crucifix is a little too graphic.  That the bread and wine of Holy Communion are actually the broken body and shed blood of Christ is a bit over the top for many Christians who deny the very words of Jesus.  Countless sermons are preached every Sunday where the suffering and death of our Lord have no place whatsoever. 
Then and now the death of Jesus on the cross is a scandal. 
The other reason that they couldn’t get a handle on what he was saying is that they really didn’t see the necessary connection between the Messiah and the cross. 
They were perfectly willing to accept Jesus as the Messiah because they thought that role was about earthly things like position and power.  But to accept that the Messiah of God HAD to suffer and die—that death is what sin required--they struggled to believe it.
But the fact of the matter, is that if we are to live a life with God—it can only come through the cross of Jesus Christ and the death he suffered there. 
That is why Jesus invites us to go with him to Jerusalem-- so that we can understand that salvation and wholeness and new life are only found in what he accomplished in Jerusalem in his death and resurrection.  The Bible says that:  As Jesus drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.
            At the beginning of their journey to Jerusalem we heard the Lord tell us and the disciples:  “Behold”!  “Feast your eyes on this”!  And yet they couldn’t see the truth.  But as they traveled on, they met a blind man who could see what they couldn’t see because the truth about Jesus is discerned by the heart-- not the eyes.
Can there be a picture of anyone as helpless as a blind man in the ancient world?  No social agency to help him.  No vocational training to give him some place in life.  Nothing for him to do but beg for pennies from other peasants, hopeful that his basic, human needs could somehow be met by their mercy. 
That was his life until Jesus walked by him on his way to the cross.  The Bible says that:
Hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
This little exchange really is the key to understanding what the Holy Spirit is telling us this morning about Jesus’ journey to the cross.  It’s why the disciples and the crowd didn’t understand what Jesus was about-- and why the blind man did.
When he asked about what was going on, the crowd said that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by—and so he was—the humble man of Galilee. 
The crowds of that day, and the crowds of this day, are perfectly content to confess the same—to recognize and accept the historical facts that Jesus of Nazareth was a good man- who said wise things- and died a terrible death. 
But that was not the confession of the blind man.  He said:  Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!  Not Jesus of Nazareth—but Jesus, Son of David!
There are great confessions of faith that are found in the Bible.  Peter says of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God”.  The centurion at the cross says of him, “Surely this man was the Son of God”.  The confession of the blind man was just as great.  Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. 
This was the confession of a faithful child of Israel who recognized by faith just exactly who Jesus was—that he was the Messiah that they had been hoping for and praying for—the One who would make EVERYTHING right that sin had destroyed.  It is in that faith and hope that he cried out for the Messiah’s mercy.  The bible says:
Those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
            Things really haven’t changed that much in the last two thousand years have they? 
There are still those in the crowd who try to shout us down as we confess that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  There are still those who want to silence the witness of Christians that we have in Jesus a God who is merciful and willing and able to help.  
The blind man shows us the way to respond to the unbelieving crowds of our own day when he refused to be shouted down or ridiculed for his confession and instead cried out all the more:  Son of David, have mercy on me!  The Bible says that at these words:
Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. 
            The blind man couldn’t come to Jesus by himself.  He couldn’t find him in the darkness.  He didn’t posses what was necessary.  All that he could do was recognizes his own great need and cry out for mercy.  And that is what he received. 
Jesus commanded others to bring him to him just as he has commanded us to bring others to him by carrying our children to the baptismal font and inviting people to church. 
There is a world full of people who need what only Jesus can give and yet they lack the ability to make it to him on their own.  Jesus has commanded us who can see the way, to bring them to him to be healed of all that is broken in their lives.  The Bible says:
When the blind man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”  And immediately he recovered his sight
            700 years before this moment the prophet Isaiah promised that through the Messiah’s work “the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; and the lame shall man shall leap like a deed and the tongue of the mute sing for joy”.
Jesus of Nazareth—the Son of Man and David’s Son-- accomplished every one of these messianic signs just as the prophets had written.  And the benefits of his saving work are received today in the same way as they were that day:  by faith in Jesus. 
Jesus told the man that his faith had made him well.  And so it had—not because the power rested in his believing—but because the One he believed in was able to do what was promised of him:  give forgiveness, salvation, and wholeness.
So it is for us.  Faith is necessary to receive what Christ has done for us.  His saving works were done for all but to receive the benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation (and the wholeness that will come on the Last Day) it is necessary to have faith—to recognize that we have no claim upon the Lord but our great need for his mercy-- and to come to him in faith for the new life he gives—just like the man did that day. 
The Bible says that the man who was healed:  followed Jesus, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
This is the life of faith!  That we who have received the Lord’s gifts follow him as his disciples—that we praise God and give him all the glory for the great things that he has done for us—that our lives bear witness to the goodness and mercy of Jesus Christ.
The man who was healed that day was a man reborn.  He had a brand new life ahead of him.  And that life was dedicated to the glory of God.  Many the same things be said of us, who are also the recipients of our Lord’s saving work!  Amen.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Sower, the Seed, and the Soils

Luke 8:4-15 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
            It is the simplest little story.  There is nothing difficult about it at all.  The events portrayed were repeated thousands upon thousands of times- over thousands upon thousands of years- in the ancient world.  Even the smallest child could understand the story.
But this simple story reveals one of the deepest mysteries of God’s work in the world—something that we have all wondered about.  Maybe you’ve seen it in your extended family.  Maybe you’ve seen it in the congregation. 
The Word of God was preached to every member of the family; to every member of the congregation.  Everyone was baptized and went to Sunday School and confirmation instruction. 
And yet somewhere along the way, their lives of faith turned out very different.  Some of them led a fruitful Christian life and persevered in the faith unto the end and were saved-- and others fell away at some point and were lost.  It grieves our heart.  We wonder what happened along the way.
That mystery is what is revealed in Jesus’ explanation to the parable and when Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” he is not inviting our speculation about where others in our family and congregation have ended up—but he is asking each one of us to carefully consider where we are right now and how God’s Word is working in our lives.
Have we made room for the devil who would steal our salvation?  Is our faith shallow because we are not grounded in the word of God?  Are the cares and concerns and the priorities of the world crowding out the Word of God in our lives?  Or, are we holding fast to the Word of God and growing in our faith and producing the fruits thereof?  Jesus says that:
 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
            In this story, Jesus especially is the Sower of the Word because his death and resurrection is the content of that Word--but along with him is every other Minister of the Gospel who works with him to share the story of salvation-- and in fact, every other Christian who shares in that work of speaking forth the Word of life that is found in the Gospel.
Jesus likens the Word of God to a seed because from that Word alone does our new life with God come.  The Bible says that we have been born again by the living and enduring Word of God.  The Gospel is the power of salvation because it tells us of Christ’s death for our sins and the hope we have in his resurrected life.
That is how important the Word of God is!  Life with God; a place in his kingdom; salvation life itself comes from no other place than the Seed of the Gospel as it is spread throughout the world like an ancient farmer sowing seed in his fields.
As the farmer in the parable spread that seed, some fell upon the hard-packed path between the fields and immediately birds came and ate the seed. 
Jesus says that’s the way the devil works—watching and waiting—always following behind those whore are sowing the Word—doing everything in his power to steal the Good News away before it even has a chance to begin to grow into faith in human hearts.
The Bible says that:  We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  The Bible says that our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
From the beginning, when the devil asked Adam and Eve, “Did God really say?” his chief mode of attack has been an attack on the Word of God because he knows that in the Word alone is life.  And so we ought to ask ourselves in all seriousness, “Is there some place in my life where I am giving the devil a foothold?” 
I know that the Word of God says that I am to forgive and keep on forgiving but I can’t be expected to forgive that, can I?  I know that the Word says that looking on a woman with lust in my heart is adultery but these TV programs I watch and these websites I visit can’t be that bad, can they?  I know that the Word says to put God first and his kingdom but I’ve got to make a living, don’t I?  And on and on the satanic attack goes and it is a demonic, deadly danger to our life of faith—but so is the weakness of our own flesh.  Jesus went on…
Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
            We’ve all seen this.  A couple loses a child or grandchild to a terrible accident and along with the child they lose their faith.  A man suffers one financial setback after another and his life is never what he thought it would be and he loses his faith.  A woman has a glass of wine to wind down at the end of the day but it becomes another and another and she eventually succumbs to addiction and loses her faith. 
Let’s be very clear, we are made of no better stuff than they.  We are broken people who live in a broken world.  The Bible says that "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" and we know how many don’t make it past those hardships   
It is so easy to make a good start when it comes to our life with God; to be filled with enthusiasm for his ways; to be an involved member of a congregation-- but to never the deep-rooted faith we need to withstand trials and temptations.  And so then…
We need to be hear God’s Word and study God’s word and apply God’s Word to our lives and put it into practice if we are to develop the spiritual roots we need stand fast in times of trial and endure in faith unto the end so that we can be saved-- and often times the trials and temptation are of our own making and our own misplaced priorities.  Jesus says:
The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.
            For me, and perhaps for you too, a life of ease such as described here is much more dangerous to my faith in Jesus than the hardships of life.  When I go through hard times and trials I am reminded how weak I am- and how much I need God- and I turn to his Word -and call out to him in prayer- and trust in Jesus for the help that only he can give.
But when my life is filled with ease and comfort and material blessings I am always tempted to let my life be about ease and comfort and material blessings.  And perhaps that is true for you too—that there is a temptation to let the gifts God gives become more important than the Giver of the gifts.
Here in the United States we live in a time of prosperity and peace and plenty that is previously unknown in human history.  What we consider to be the bare necessities of human existence, would be considered unimaginable luxuries just a few generations ago.
Now, there is no way to go back.  We can’t pretend that we are living in olden days.  In fact, that would be easier than what we actually need to do!  What is much, much more difficult-- and what must be done if we are to be faithful, fruitful Christians-- is to make sure that the trappings of modern life do not become an all-consuming top priority in our lives.
We must ask ourselves:  Is the Christian training of my children even as close to important to me as their academic or athletic success and how do I show that?  Am I filled with peace and hope because I am a child of God or because I am good shape financially?  Compared to all my other activities and interests, how does time spent in God’s Word compare?
The seed of the Word that is planted and begins to grow but has to compete with the things of the world will eventually be choked out.  What a tragedy to say about ourselves or our children that we gave them everything they could ever want except the one thing needful: a true and living and fruitful faith in Christ!  Jesus says that:
The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
            There are those sitting in Christian churches today who are letting the devil steal the Word from their heart; who have never really let the word of God sink deeply into their lives; who are doing their level best to make a place for God AND for the things of the world on the altar of their heart.  I know this because Jesus teaches it in our lesson today.  Where are you?
These words of Jesus about good soil are where you want to be.  A heart that believes and holds fast to God’s Word.  A heart that loves God’s Word and wants to grow in God’s Word.  A heart that is ready and willing to take what is learned in church and bible study and personal devotions and put it into action in their lives bearing the fruit of faith.  Dear friends in Christ…
It is not enough to begin well.  It is not enough to have an intellectual assent to some dogmatic truth.  It is not enough to have a superficial knowledge of the things of God.  Jesus says that it is only the one who endures to the end who will be saved. Jesus says that it is only the fruitful faith that is a saving faith. 
This is what the Word of God will accomplish in us if we will only hear it and believe it and step out in faith upon its promises. 
Jesus has given us this day for that and we must take hold of it, for to delay will only lead to more and more spiritual difficulty in our lives and eventually, the loss of faith altogether.  The Bible says that:    
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’
            Today we have heard the Word of God.  It has been read and taught plainly.  There are lessons in it we can all understand.  And Jesus wants us to take them to heart without delay. 
            Those that he spoke to that day had turned a deaf ear again and again to God’s Word.  They had failed to step out in faith on the promises of God’s Word again and again.  And it would be increasingly difficult for them to change their ways and believe the Good News and show that faith in their lives. 
            And that was God’s judgment upon them. But that is not us!  Today is the day of salvation!  Today is the day to hear God’s Word; take it to heart; and begin to live our lives as the fruitful Christians God desires us to be.  Amen.