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Click here for the reading: Luke 8:4-15.

The difference between hearing and understanding is especially clear in Luke’s gospel, where the crowds are the recipients of Jesus’s story but not its meaning. Parables do not all confuse their hearers; the ones told closer to Jesus’ passion are often all-too-clear for his opponents. But if they do not confuse, they do not clarify themselves. More must be said, and what was told must also be explained. Explanation and clarity are gifts for the disciples that the crowds do not receive.

The working of the kingdom of God is through the word of God. The reign happens through preaching. As the word is spread, the kingdom spreads, and the parable is an explanation of what happens when the gospel is preached. The fact that the gospel is preached, that sowers go out to sow, and that the word spreads throughout the whole creation (as it does in the Acts of the Apostles) requires no explanation whatsoever. Nobody has to be ginned up to go out and spread the gospel. The parable presumes that the man who has seed will sow it.

The parable’s German title of “the parable of the fourfold soil” is illuminating for its meaning. Jesus is not explaining what’s wrong with the word of God since it’s perfect. He is not explaining why the sower sowed so profligately or why the devil opposes mankind’s salvation. All these are givens. The word is perfect, the word is sown everywhere, and the devil hates mankind, the crown of God’s creation and the object of His redeeming love. No, what must be explained is how any growth occurs in a world full of resistance to the word.

Some have the word snatched from their hearts before its growth can begin. They do not guard with patience and goodness what was sown. Some cannot endure testing and fall away at the first sign of hardship on account of the word. Some do not reach their full growth because the cares of this life choke out the wholesome word of life everlasting. The dangers to growth and the dangers to fruition are so many that Jesus’s description of them is elliptical, even indirect. How much of a life’s struggle and how many deceptions are summed up in “they believe for a while” or “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life”? How many lives were lived in just those ways, and how many died in their sins with the word all overgrown with weeds?

Luke 8:8 has no distinction among the growth that Matthew’s rendition of this parable does. Everyone who bears fruit bears it a hundredfold. The focus in Luke’s parable is rather on the nature of good soil, more fully described here than in either Matthew or Mark. Once the word is heard, it must be held fast, never leaving, never being choked or swamped. In the soil of an “honest and good heart,” it grows beyond all expectation from one seed to a hundredfold yield.

Click here for the reading: 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9.

Paul’s foolishness is holy wisdom. The wisdom the Corinthians admire is not wise in Christ, whose ways lead Paul into an upside-down life that turns the world upside down. The dizzying world of Paul’s service in Christ is not one for every sermon, but it may be fruitful for the preacher to tackle what happens when the word has its way in a man’s life – the life Paul describes in this pericope. Wisdom abounds in the midst of suffering.

Indeed the only way to the wisdom of Paul is through the suffering of Paul. Therefore he must boast of what he suffers. His resume in 11:22-28 is first of what is useless and then of his sufferings. What proved useless are the very things of which his opponents – likely the judaizers who plagued and perverted his gospel wherever he went – boast. Their ethnic boasts are nothing to him, who could likewise boast. Instead, his CV is suffering after suffering and every last bit of it in Christ’s way. When nothing more dramatic is happening, he suffers the anxiety of his care for the churches in Christ throughout the world. He is a man turned over to suffering so that the nations may be turned over to Christ.

In that way of suffering in Christ even the marvelous vision Paul was given of paradise is not ground for speaking, still less for boasting. What is greatest and most heavenly is occasion for silence. What is lowliest and saddest is the occasion for Paul’s boasting because in his suffering he finds God’s power made perfect. Heavenly visions do not sustain the weak man – the power of God perfected in his weakness sustains the man weak for Christ’s sake.

Strange to say, even that weakness has been a part of God’s delivery of Paul from service of sin to the service of Christ. The thorn in the flesh is at once “a messenger of Satan to harass” and divinely given to prevent Paul’s conceit – to keep his resume of suffering from becoming a resume in praise of Paul. If Paul’s labors are greater than all others, his thorn is so peculiarly his that it keeps him peculiarly humble for an apostle with so many grounds for boasting.

The thorn sent by Satan thus also works for the purposes of God. Truly, all things work together for good for them that love Him, that are called according to His purpose. If He purposed Paul’s salvation and Paul’s calling to service for Christ, then even Paul’s thorn will serve those holy purposes. If He purposed all Paul’s sufferings, then even Paul’s sufferings shall serve His gospel. All things shall serve Paul’s salvation and through him the salvation of the nations called by the gospel. So that Paul’s salvation and the salvation of the nations may not be of him who runneth nor of him who willeth but of God who showeth mercy. In our weakness, how great is His power to save!

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 55:10-13.

Creation tells out the Creator’s might. The rain and snow come down from the Creator’s hand, who has promised not to send so much at once that life on earth is extinguished. The rain and the snow come down by measure, and in their sending they make the earth fruitful and gladden the heart of man with what the earth yields. The sower and the eater are both provisioned by what comes down from above.

Thus the word comes down heaven from as the rain and the snow do. What is familiar in creation will be gloriously unfamiliar in new creation. A people stranded in exile will have the word from heaven preached to them, and the word will prove true. The nagging doubt of fruitlessness – that all this would come to naught like a field sown but not harvested – is dispelled through the promise that the word of God will accomplish His purpose and will prove fruitful at last.

Creation then becomes more than a way to grasp what the word of God does. Creation itself must turn in joy to praising the God who does these wonderful things with His word. The people of God will have joy and peace, and in their peaceful rejoicing the mighty things of creation – the mountains and the everlasting hills – begin to sing. The trees that are mightier and older than any man will clap their hands as all creation becomes a temple where the servants of God praise the God whose word is so mighty.

This word and this rejoicing will change creation itself from a bearer of evil and sadness – a place for thorns and for briers – to a place of quiet joys and peaceful shade – a place for the cypress and for the myrtle. What was inhospitable and dangerous will become garden-like and homey. Everything will be changed at His word.

This will be His everlasting fame – that He has made from the thorn a cypress and from the brier a myrtle. He has changed a fallen creation into a new creation that sings His praise and shelters His people. The word’s effect on creation is far greater than the rain and the snow, which water for a time and are good for a season. The word will work such changes in all creation that it will become an “everlasting sign” of His goodness and His wonders. Through the sign of Jonah – the sign of the Son of Man three days in the belly of the earth and then raised – the Lord will work a change in the earth – from death to life, from thorn to cypress – that will never be cut off, never change with the seasons, that will be forever fruitful.