In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
Saint Paul encourages the Corinthian church, Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. These words remain true today as they were almost 2,000 years ago. Self-examination to see whether we are in the true faith benefits us in two ways. First, it protects us from self-deception and from deception in the Christian faith. Do we really believe what Scripture says about our salvation? Do we believe that Scripture cannot be broken? Second, self-examination awakens and drives us to new earnestness, zeal, and greater fidelity in the Christian faith. If in examining ourselves we find that we have fallen away from the faith, it can bring us to repentance and faith once again.
So how do we begin such a self-examination, especially in the days leading up to Lententide? Don’t follow your reason or your own strength. Don’t listen to what the world says. Don’t even listen to the judgment of fellow Christians. Listen to the Scriptures. Faith comes by hearing the preaching of the Scriptures. The best way to examine yourself to see what you believe and how you practice what you believe is to ask the question, How have I heard God’s Word up to now?
Jesus is kind enough to give us crib notes on the parable of the soils that receive the seed of the Word of God. The seed is the Word of God. As a seed carries life from which new seeds emerge, so the Word of Scripture has a divine power in itself to awaken in those dead to sin a new spiritual life. God’s Word once called the world into being out of nothing. God’s Word in Christ’s mouth made the sick healthy, the blind see, and the dead alive. The Word is able to do what it is intended to do, just as Isaiah says in today’s Old Testament reading: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
The Word of God wants receptive hearts. A seed can only bring new fruit if it is sown in well-prepared soil. It’s the same way with God’s Word. Man can prevent the working of the Word in his heart. The seed cannot do that. The seed is always good, for the Word is good. This is why Jesus says later in Luke chapter eight, Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.
Some seed falls on the path. The Word does fall in soil that has natural apathy, indifference, and prejudice against the Word. Sometimes the Word works, but the soil isn’t quite sure about the seed. Consider Felix the Roman governor in Acts chapter 24. He had a Jewish wife named Drusilla. He had an accurate knowledge of the Way. Nevertheless, Felix was looking for a bribe from Saint Paul. Felix instead received preaching from Paul. Instead of repentance when Felix was cut to the heart, Felix said to Paul, Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you. That opportunity never happened.
Consider also King Agrippa. Saint Paul preached to him as well. Paul one day said to the King: “Do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am–except for these chains.” Agrippa was ready to free Saint Paul, but not ready to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord.
When you hear the Word like Felix or Agrippa, the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved…. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.
Then there are those on the rock. These are fickle and unstable hearers. They love to hear good things from Scripture. But when it comes to persecution and trials, then the whining begins. “How should this happen to me as a Christian? Everything was going along just fine. Now everything is wrong. If this is being a Christian, well, forget about it!”
Those among the thorns fall back into the ways of the world. Worse yet, they may associate with Christians, they may come to Divine Service, may pray often, and may even read their Bible. But after time worldly things suffocates them. The next thing they know, they have another god. Consider Judas Iscariot, who went to the wrong place to receive forgiveness. Then there’s the rich man in Jesus’ parable in Luke 16. We find out after he dies that he thought his fortune would be enough to put him in God’s good graces. Then there’s the unjust servant, who had his unpayable debt forgiven, yet would not forgive a trifling sum of another. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.
This leaves us with hearers who are eager for salvation. They hear rightly. They receive the seed and do not hinder its work in them. They diligently learn, devoutly hear the Word with desire. They ponder the Word, keeping it as Mary did by reflecting on what this Word of grace means for them. They live in the Word so that they might grow in grace and in believing Jesus Christ as Savior of the world from sin, death, and hell. They hearken to the words of Moses in Deuteronomy chapter six: These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. They live the words of Saint Paul in Colossians chapter three: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
What is more, they also bear fruit in patience. Daily you die to sin and to the world. Daily you worry less about trivial, earthly matters. Daily you rejoice in what is good for your soul, reflecting the words of Philippians chapter four: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
These things Saint Paul mentions is actually one thing: Jesus Christ, Whose blood pleads your innocence before the heavenly Father. The Word made flesh is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Jesus is the Seed of the woman Who stomps the head of the servant, costing Him the bruising of His heel. The Seed of the Word of God is planted in you in preaching, in your Baptism, and again today in His true Body and true Blood.
Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. Take care to hear Christ for you, for in hearing His Word of everlasting life you are blessed in Him.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit