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Chapter Two: Efficacy Passages

of the Bible

 

The Biblical passages using the enegeia-energeo word group, studied in the first chapter, do not exhaust the category of Scriptural passages about the efficacy of the Word alone. This chapter explains the most important texts that teach the efficacy of the Word alone, without using the efficacy word group. God reveals His will to us in many different ways, so that we can understand and gain from His wisdom, if not from one passage, then from another. If we spend time with the Word and meditate about the meaning of different passages, especially when they are under attack by scoffers, we can begin to see the miraculous unity of the Scriptures. Many men of different cultures and times, inspired by the Holy Spirit, speak the same truth, unchanging and unchanged by the folly of man, without error or contradiction.

The Means of Grace Chapter – Isaiah 55

Verses 1-5, Repentance for the Gentiles

 

KJV Isaiah 55:1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. 3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. 4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. 5 Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.

 

When a Lutheran pastor was installed in Toledo, Ohio, the circuit pastor recited all of Isaiah 55 during the laying on of hands, introducing the passage as “the Means of Grace chapter.” No other passage in the Old Testament so clearly defines the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion than does Isaiah 55. Verses 8-10 are often cited in support of the efficacy of the Word, but the verses have even greater clarity when read in the context of the entire chapter. The first section (verses 1-5) addresses the Gentiles, while the second part is directed at Israel.

 

 

Verse 1

 

The interjection in verse 1 could be translated “Alas!” rather than “Ho!” The Hebrew interjection (yAh) is used consistently in the sense of a warning (1 Kings 13:30; Isaiah 45:10).[1] Those who are thirsty are invited to the water. Not the hungry, but the poor, those without silver are invited to buy and to eat, reminding us that the Gospel is free. The Law, delivered with all the force of God’s own prophet, has been taught in all of its severity. The Law of God affects us by making us thirsty for righteousness and eager for the comfort of forgiveness. Both the water and food are used in the spiritual sense. The meaning is lost if we think the prophet is predicting material blessings. The first verse suggests both the water of Baptism and the food of Holy Communion.

The Scriptures are filled with references to water that is not literal water and food that is not literal food.[2] The Samaritan woman at the well, John 4:1-42, at first wanted miraculous water to spare her the labor of drawing from the well. Jesus identified her sin, striking her down with the Law, but afterwards taught her that He was indeed the promised Messiah. She believed in Him and immediately told her friends, who also believed, not only because of her proclaiming the Gospel but also because of Jesus Himself teaching them. In another example, Jesus taught the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), where the dinner represents the invitation of our gracious heavenly Father to enter His Kingdom, dressed in the robes of the righteousness of Christ.[3]

Verse two supports the sense of the first verse by asking why anyone would count their silver for non-bread and labor for something not satisfying. The question creates a contrast between God’s gracious invitation—to buy without money—and the normal human condition of working hard for material goods of no eternal value. In the Scriptures and the Confessions, truth is emphasized by combining a positive statement with a negative. The value of this method is shown by false teachers who will say, like the Mormons, that they believe in the Trinity. The Mormons will never say, “We renounce the concept of three separate gods.” In fact, when I said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God,” two Mormon missionaries became angry, although they had just claimed that the Book of Mormon never contradicted the Bible.[4] The apostle Peter preached using this confessional form:

 

KJV Acts 4:11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. 12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

 

He not only stated that Christ is the cornerstone of salvation, but also denied that there is salvation apart from Christ.[5]

 

Verses 3-5

 

The only answer for the individual’s hunger and thirst is to listen carefully to God’s appointed prophet. Here we have the method stipulated by God to nourish the soul, the external or spoken Word. Through the Word we eat, that is, receive what is good, and also delight in its blessings.

            Verses 3-5 are an invitation followed by three Gospel promises:

1)     By listening to the Word, our souls will revive.

2)     God will make an everlasting covenant of mercy.

3)     Multitudes from outside of Israel will become believers because of the Christ.

The remarkable sense of time in the Scriptures can be seen in the abrupt transition between the past (the sure mercies of David), the Messianic promise (I have given Him for a witness to the people), and a direct address to the Messiah (Behold, thou shalt call a nation). In the passage under consideration, past, present, and future are folded together and unfolded, according to God’s purpose. The majority of Christians today are from the Gentiles, thus fulfilling the promise offered in this section, that “a people will run to You that You did not know.”

 

Verses 6-13, Repentance for Israel

 

KJV Isaiah 55:6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: 11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. 12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

 

The Means of Grace chapter is both a call for repentance and the promise of mercy through Christ. Knowing our frail nature, our fear of condemnation, our easy descent into despair when faced with the Law, God assures us of His readiness to forgive. Many Lutheran churches use this Lenten sentence after the appointed Epistle: “Return to the Lord, Your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”[6] He warns and promises: “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” It is not too late for Israel.  

 

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"That opportunity is given and remains only so long as the Lord lets Himself be found, so long as He is near. That opportunity is there whenever and so long as the Lord calls, 50:2; 65:12; 66:4. Cf. John 12:35; 2 Corinthians 6:2. His voice, His call, His inviting word alone has the power to convert. Where that voice no longer is heard, there is no more opportunity to come to grace."

August Pieper, Isaiah II, trans., E. Kowalke, Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1979, p. 487.

 

God calls upon the wicked in verse seven to abandon his evil ways and his evil thoughts, since one cannot be separated from another. When the contrite sinner approaches the throne of grace, God abundantly pardons, not because of the sorrow of the sinner, but because of the atoning death of Christ. Man’s nature is sinful and rebellious, turning away from God even when he knows that God commands what is good. No equation can be found in this verse. Man sins but God offers His Son as the sole foundation for forgiveness and eternal life. Isaiah portrays contrition not as feeling bad, but as no longer thinking and doing evil. The humble sinner returns to the Lord, to the Means of Grace, knowing that “He will have mercy upon him and will abundantly pardon.”

The deeds and thoughts of the evil man are contrasted sharply with the deeds and thoughts of God in verse 8. The gulf between evil man and the gracious Heavenly Father is revealed in the greatest possible contrast. The unreachable distance between the earth and the sky illustrates how far sinful man is below God (verse 9). Man’s thoughts and deeds lead to destruction and death, while God’s thoughts and works lead to blessings and eternal life. No one can argue from this verse or any other passage in Scripture that man contributes to his salvation or to another person’s by man-made skills, thoughts, decisions, methods, or long-range plans.

 

Efficacy of the Word in Isaiah 55:10-11

For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven,

and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth,

and maketh it bring forth and bud,

that it may give seed to the

sower, and bread to the eater:

11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth:

it shall not return unto me void,

but it shall accomplish that which I please,

and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

           

The image from God’s Creation, in verses 10 and 11, reveals the power of God’s Word, especially for those who have gardens and farms.

 

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(1) "Thy word, O Lord, like gentle dews, Falls soft on hearts that pine;

Lord, to thy garden never refuse This heavenly balm of thine.

Watered by thee, let every tree Then blossom to thy praise,

By grace of thine bear fruit divine Through all the coming days.

 

(2) Thy word is like a flaming sword, A wedge that cleaveth stone;

Keen as a fire, so burns thy word, And pierceth flesh and bone.

Let it go forth over all the earth To cleanse our hearts within, To show thy

power in Satan's hour, And break the might of sin." (Garve, 1763-1841)

Carl Bernhard Garve, "Thy Word, O Lord, Like Gentle Dews," Service Book and Hymnal, Philadephia: Board of Publication, 1958, Hymn #254.

 

The rain and snow come down from heaven, just as the Word descends to us. No one with any knowledge of plants would argue that snow and rain fall without effect. The effect is unmistakable and inevitable. The Word condemns sin and unbelief, brings about contrition in the heart of the sinner, and showers comfort and peace upon those who believe in the Gospel of salvation. The Word also damns unbelief and hardens the hearts of those who persistently reject the Gospel freely offered.

 

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“The word does not return to God in vain, but rather accomplishes what He has desired and succeeds in that for which He has sent it. What is stressed is the utter efficaciousness of God’s word to accomplish the purpose for which He has sent it forth. In this particular context the element of blessing seems to predominate (cf. vv. 1-6); but the thought is not thus limited. Just as the word is efficacious for the salvation of believers, so also is it abundantly efficacious for condemning the wicked. ‘The word which I have spoken, that shall judge him at the last day’ (John 12:48; cf. also Jeremiah 23:29ff.; Romans 1:16).”

            Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, 3 vols., Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972, III, p. 384.[7]

 

No one can dispute the divine attributes of the Word from this passage. The Word is never without these attributes. The Holy Spirit is bound to the Word by every aspect of the description of its ministry.

The Word comes from the mouth of God, that is, from the Holy Spirit. The Word comes exclusively from God, not partially from God and partially from man. The description is three-fold, which we usually find in the work of the Holy Trinity:

A.    The Word never returns empty. Man’s words often accomplish nothing, but God’s Word is incapable of failure.

B.    The Word will accomplish what God pleases.

C.    The Word prospers God’s intended goal.

 

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"Rain and snow, too, are God's, and it is He who sends them forth from His abode. They are His messengers, do His will and carry out His commands, and only because of His will do they have their wholesome effect. Just so does His Word go forth from His mouth as His herald, fulfilling the mission assigned to it by God. That mission is defined in verse 12. It is impossible that the Word should not fulfill its mission, for it is His creative, commanding Word, alive with His power. It is the Almighty God Himself in action, even as He performs His will in the rain and the snow. Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12f.; Jeremiah 23:29ff."

August Pieper, Isaiah II, trans., E. Kowalke, Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1979, p. 489.

 

The unique value of rain can be seen with special clarity when compared to man’s best effort to imitate God’s creation. Gardeners and farmers know that nothing can replace rain for making the soil productive. During a drought they will water or irrigate. One farmer expressed the limitations of artificial rain in a few words, “You can keep your plants from dying, but you can’t make them grow.” City water lacks the dissolved nitrogen of rainwater to green up plants. When a drought threatens the life of manicured lawns, we see sprinklers pouring water on brown, lifeless grass. The soil may be soaked, but the grass still looks dead. The chlorine added to public water systems tends to retard plant growth as well, so gardeners will keep a barrel of rainwater for their favorite roses. Farmers irrigate during a drought with some reluctance. They know that irrigation can slowly destroy the soil by adding too many minerals from the groundwater. Suddenly, after a windless day of deadly heat and humidity, a long, soaking rain breaks the drought and turns every lawn green, every farm productive, showing us once again the difference between man’s rain and God’s rain, man’s technology and God’s Creation, man’s wisdom from below and God’s wisdom from above.

We attended the installation of a pastor on a summer evening described above. I told my wife Chris and son Martin to expect thunder and lightening during the sermon by Bethany Seminary president Wilhelm Peterson. The heat and humidity built up during the service in the rural parish. President Peterson began preaching when the storm broke, punctuated first by soft distant thunder, later by overhead booms and crashes. Lightening flashed through the church windows and cool air poured in. Sitting up front with the clergy, I looked across the pews to watch my family enjoying my prophecy fulfilled. Afterwards, a retired pastor’s wife said, “That was a million dollar rain,” referring to the end of the drought.

 

People imagine they understand the value of rain, until they live in the desert. Moving to a desert valley allowed us to realize the Biblical references to the burning heat of the sun, the dangers of thirst and heat prostration.[8] When outside temperatures reach 110-115 degrees, salvation and shade are closely related.

 

KJV Psalm 121:5 The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand. 6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

 

Snow has special value in preparing the soil for spring. Far from killing life, the snow protects plants and animals by placing a warm, moist, translucent blanket over the earth, acting as a buffer against the drying and freezing winds of winter. Snowflakes interlock and trap air, providing an environmentally sound down blanket. By design, snow has a different composition than rain. When the snow melts, this gives spring plants a boost when needed most. During spring, the melting snow and rain combine to allow incredible growth in the grass, plants, bushes, and trees. However, the vitality of plants would be impossible apart from the foundation of all biological life in the soil.

No civilization has ever grown or even survived without healthy soil and vigorous crops. In brief, the pyramid of animal life, with man at the top, rests upon the fertility of the soil, which is far more than particles of dirt. The foundation of all plant and animal life includes an army of microscopic organisms, molds, bacteria, springtails, slugs, sowbugs, ants, centipedes, millipedes, bees, earthworms, shrews, moles, voles, chipmunks, and rabbits, to name only a few. All exist in perfect balance, eating and being eaten, breaking down and building up. All of the life forms need water. When rain and snow no longer come down, the microscopic creatures die and starve the next higher order of animals. Animal bodies and dung stop feeding the soil through the creatures who recycle organic material. Earthworms diminish and the soil loses its tilth or substance. Plant roots no longer hold the soil in place. The remorseless winds blow the finest particles of topsoil away, leaving the larger particles of sand in place. The desert is born from a lack of rain and snow.[9]

When plants germinate, they are so fragile that a lack of water for one day can wipe out most of the crop. Like babies, they are vigorous in growth but demanding of nutrition. Again, when plants are ready to fruit, more water is needed for their burst of productivity. Many people have seen the dried and lifeless buds that fall off the plant from lack of moisture. If rain does not fall during the crucial time of budding, the entire crop will be reduced or fail.

 

KJV Deuteronomy 11:14 That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.

 

KJV James 5:7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

 

Just as the Creator provides the rain to germinate and produce the crop, so God gives us His Word to kindle faith in our hearts, to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, and to gather us into His eternal habitations. The Word of God continuously provides blessings in the life of believers as long as they avail themselves of the Means of Grace. Those who cut themselves off from the Word by refusing to worship or study, dry up spiritually, just as plants wither and die in the desert from lack of rain.

We have the technology to understand the cycle of water described by the prophet in verse ten. Rain and snow come down from heaven but also return in the form of water vapor. It is a closed system. The weather systems are so vast, complicated, and unified that a change in the water temperature in the Pacific can severely affect the weather for half the globe in a phenomenon known as El Nino. The energy involved is also a closed system, so that heat in the water is translated into storms that dissipate the heat. The procession of the Word from God’s Mouth is portrayed by Isaiah as a closed system. It goes out and comes back, accomplishing His purpose. Franz Delitzsch wrote: “The return of the word to God also presupposes its divine nature.”[10] God’s Word never becomes man’s word, never loses its energy.[11]

 

seed to the sower, and bread to the eater.

 

Traditional farmers sowed in tears (Psalm 126:5) because they set aside some of their food as seed to provide crops for the new year. If drought, hail, or an untimely frost ruined the crop, their food was gone, rotted in the soil. God provides abundance so that the crop yields enough to feed the family, give some as a thank-offering, and save some seed for the new year. The Word of God not only produces believers but also new pastors and teachers to proclaim the Gospel. When the Gospel is persecuted, even more sowers of the seed are produced to replace those who are martyred.

 

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"But if ordination be understood as applying to the ministry of the Word, we are not unwilling to call ordination a sacrament. For the ministry of the Word has God's command and glorious promises. Romans 1:16 The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Likewise, Isaiah 55:11: So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth; it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please...And it is of advantage, so far as can be done, to adorn the ministry of the Word with every kind of praise against fanatical men, who dream that the Holy Ghost is given not through the Word, but because of certain preparations of their own...."

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII (VII), #11, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 311. Tappert, p. 212. Heiser, p. 95.

 

Tertullian is often quoted as saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The Word is preached with tears, with many afflictions falling upon the faithful, yet we reap with joy, seeing the harvest God alone can provide.

 

KJV Psalm 126:5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy

 

Bread is a staple of diets throughout the world, thanks to the ease in which grain can be converted into flour, then into sourdough bread, which is convenient to store and carry as well as being satisfying to eat. Although God provides more than enough to eat, in spite of our anxieties, He shows the greatest concern for our souls, a gracious Heavenly Father.

 

KJV Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.[12]

 

The Word of God is bread, feeding the soul and satisfying our hunger for righteousness, a hunger caused by the Law but satisfied only by the Gospel. Christ is our bread from heaven.

 

will not return void (~q'yr).

 

The adverb “void” is used 15 times in the Old Testament to express not only literal emptiness, (Jeremiah 14:3), but also symbolic emptiness, appearing before the Lord empty-handed (Exodus 34:20), being sent away by God empty-handed (Genesis 31:42) or going to war in vain (Jeremiah 50:9). The double-negative (not return void) expresses a positive, explained by two additional states.

 

1)    Exodus 34:20 But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

2)    Ruth 3:17 And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty unto thy mother in law.

3)    2 Samuel 1:22 From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty.

 

shall accomplish hf'['

 

The verb “to accomplish” is very common in the Old Testament, used 531 times. One example is the fruit tree yielding fruit in Genesis 1:11. The verb is used many times to express God’s Creation: Genesis 1:31, 2:2, 3:1, 5:1, 6:6.

 

1)    Genesis 1:11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

2)    Genesis 1:31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

3)    Genesis 5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him.

 

that which I please (yTic.p;x')

 

The verb is relatively rare, used 13 times in the Old Testament, both to express man’s delight in serving God, and also God’s delight in caring for man.

 

1)    Psalm 40:8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.

2)    Psalm 119:35 Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.

3)    Jeremiah 9:24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.

4)     Hosea 6:6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

 

and prosper the thing (x;ylic.hiw>)

 

The verb for prosper is used 7 times in the Old Testament in two senses. First, God blesses human efforts with His divine power. King Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 31:21) served God with his whole heart and prospered because he sought to live in harmony with God’s will. The Son of God teaches us in Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” The second use of prosper reminds us of the energia-energeo word-group, for the Anti-Christ will also prosper. In Daniel 8 the prophecy concerns Antiochus Epiphanes (Epiphanes=God manifest), the future king whose evil would prompt the Maccabean revolt. He is considered a type of the Antichrist because he used his power to try to destroy the true worship of Israel. His success foreshadows the success of the Antichrist, Daniel 11:36, as seen in the power, scope, and prestige of the papacy. The delusion of the Last Days is manifested in the overwhelming support of liberal Lutherans to submit to Rome on the doctrine of justification by faith. The prosperity accomplished by God will last, but the success of His opponents is only a temporary mirage to “scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” (Luke 1:51)

 

1)    Genesis 24:40 And he said unto me, The LORD, before whom I walk, will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way; and thou shalt take a wife for my son of my kindred, and of my father's house:

2)    2 Chronicles 31:21 And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered.

3)    Isaiah 48:15 I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.

4)     Daniel 8:24 And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.

5)    Daniel 8:25 And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.

6)     Daniel 11:36 And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.

 

which he sent (wyTix.l;v.)

 

The verb is quite common. The question is whether God has or has not done the sending.[13]

 

1)    Exodus 3:14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

2)    Jeremiah 29:31 Send to all them of the captivity, saying, Thus saith the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite; Because that Shemaiah hath prophesied unto you, and I sent him not, and he caused you to trust in a lie:

3)     Ezekiel 13:6 They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.

4)      

Results of the Means of Grace, Isaiah 55:12-13

KJV Isaiah 55:12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

 

Delitzsch states: “The true point of comparison, however, is the energy with which the word is realized. Assuredly and irresistibly will the word of redemption be fulfilled.”[14] Three manifestations of salvation are given in verse 12:

 

1)     God’s Word replaces fear with joy, turmoil with peace. God is the vanguard and rearguard of the faithful (Isaiah 52:12).

2)     All of God’s Creation rejoices in man’s salvation through Christ, forAll things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:3).” How can the Creation remain silent when the Creator is at work?

 

Isaiah 44:23 Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.

 

3)     Nothing can be silent when God is accomplishing His will:

 

Psalm 98:8 Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together 9 Before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.

 

A New Testament passage sheds light on this concept. Evil men demanded a stop to the demonstration around Jesus when He entered Jerusalem as the Messiah:

 

Luke 19:39 And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. 40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

 

Although the invisible church of sincere believers seems to be driven into the dust at this time, oppressed by massive indifference, persecuted more from within than from without, a moment will come when no one will debate the truth. No one will be silent.

 

Philippians 2:10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

A believer hears the chorus of birds in their living choir-loft. He feels the wind as it stirs through the branches of the trees, sounding like the soft deep voices of a vast pipe organ. He cannot keep from singing to himself:

 

Beautiful Savior, King of Creation,

Son of God and Son of Man!

Truly I’d love Thee, Truly I’d serve Thee,

Light of my soul, my joy, my crown.

The Lutheran Hymnal, #657, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941,.

 

Verse 13 might be passed over as poetic license: thorns and briers replaced by fir-trees and myrtle-trees.[15] However, the verse stands out as another effect of the Means of Grace in addition to the peace and joy necessarily following salvation. The additional effect of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament glorifies God through doing good works, not out of obligation, but solely as a result of thankfulness and love toward God and our neighbor. Therefore, the thorns and briers of normal sinfulness, which we encounter every day—even among idealists, activists, and social revolutionaries—are transformed by the Gospel into the fruits of the Spirit. By himself, man produces only the following: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like (Galatians 5:19-21)…. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word and Sacraments, produces the following: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22-23).

 

J-206

"What business is it of mine that many do not esteem it? It must be that many are called but few are chosen. For the sake of the good ground that brings forth fruit with patience, the seed must also fall fruitless by the wayside, on the rock and among the thorns; inasmuch as we are assured that the Word of God does not go forth without bearing some fruit, but it always finds also good ground; as Christ says here, some seed of the sower falls also into good ground, and not only by the wayside, among the thorns and on stony ground. For wherever the Gospel goes you will find Christians. 'My Word shall not return unto me void.' Is. 55:11"

Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 118.

 

The Sower and the Seed in Mark 4:3-9

(Luke 8:5; Matthew 13:3)

 

KJV Mark 4:3 Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: 4 And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. 5 And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. 8 And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. 9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

 

Mark 4:14-20 Explanation of the Parable

 

KJV Mark 4:14 The sower soweth the word. 15 And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. 18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. 20 And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.

 

J-207

"Christ compares the Word of God to a seed, to a grain of wheat sown in the ground. (Matthew 13:3-23) A seed possesses power and life in itself. Power and life belong to the properties of the seed. Power is not communicated to the seed only now and then, under certain circumstances, in peculiar cases. But the Word of God is an incorruptible seed, that is able to regenerate, a Word which liveth and abideth forever. (1 Peter 1:23)"

            E. Hove, Christian Doctrine, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1930, p. 27. Matthew 13:3-23; 1 Peter 1:23.

 

The Sower and the Seed is explained by Jesus Himself. In the Means of Grace chapter of Isaiah, the Word is compared to rain and snow, which invariably cause growth. In this comparison, the Word is similar to seed, full of potential growth. If God gave us only one illustration, or a few, we would have more than enough to consider. But our gracious Heavenly Father shows His abundance in providing many different ways for His Scriptures to illustrate the whole counsel of God.

 

The Seed

Seed is a marvel because it is a storehouse of life in a portable package. Seed will endure heat, cold, storage, travel, and perhaps many years of hardships before taking root and growing. Seed travels by wind, animal, and human transportation. Each seed has its own destiny programmed within its genetic structure. The vitality of seed is easy to appreciate when a few beans or peas are placed in a damp towel to germinate. The dry, rough seed swells with moisture at first, then sends both a root to drink water and absorb moisture, and a cotyledon (baby plant) to search for the rays of the sun.


 

J-208

1)     "Preach you the Word and plant it home

To men who like or like it not,

The Word that shall endure and stand

When flowers and men shall be forgot.

 

2)     We know how hard, O Lord, the task

Your servant bade us undertake:

To preach your Word and never ask

What prideful profit it may make.

 

3)     The sower sows; his reckless love

Scatters abroad the goodly seed,

Intent alone that men may have

The wholesome loaves that all men need.

 

4)     Though some be snatched and some be scorched

And some be chocked and matted flat,

The sower sows; his heart cries out,

'Oh, what of that, and what of that?'

 

4)     Preach you the Word and plant it home

And never faint; the Harvest Lord

Who gave the sower seed to sow

Will watch and tend his planted Word."

Martin H. Franzmann, 1907-76, "Preach You the Word," Lutheran Worship, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1982, Hymn #259.

 

 

The parable teaches us about four groups of people who hear the Word.

 

Satan takes away the seed

The first group is represented by those who have the Word snatched from their hearts by Satan. When the sower casts his seed, some will fall upon the hard footpaths that border the planting area. These footpaths were well known to Jesus’ audience and not unknown today. If a path is worn in grass from frequent traffic, sowing seed on it alone will not restore the growth. First the soil must be softened and turned to promote germination. So it is when people with hardened hearts hear the Gospel but do not grasp it. It goes in one ear and out the other. They are hearers only and not doers.[16] They may acknowledge the faith in some minor way, even earn a living as ministers or teachers, but they do not sincerely believe and therefore do not act upon faith. Luther emphasizes in the strongest terms that synodical unbelievers belong to Satan.

 

J-209

"The first class of disciples are those who hear the Word but neither understand nor esteem it. And these are not the mean people of the world, but the greatest, wisest and the most saintly, in short they are the greatest part of mankind; for Christ does not speak here of those who persecute the Word nor of those who fail to give their ear to it, but of those who hear it and are students of it, who also wish to be called true Christian and to live in Christian fellowship with Christians and are partakers of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. But they are of a carnal heart, and remain so, failing to appropriate the Word of God to themselves, it goes in one ear and out the other, just like the seed along the wayside did not fall into the earth, but remained lying on the ground..."

            Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed. John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 114.

 

Satan is always at war against Christianity and never stops stealing faith from people, just as birds never seem to stop feeding. As Lenksi has noted in his commentary on Mark, Satan snatches away faith in many different ways:

 

J-210

“Once he tells a man, that the Word which disturbs his conscience is a mere exaggeration, sin is not so deadly, God cannot have wrath, we must not allow our enlightened minds to be moved by such outworn notions; again, it is all uncertain, no uncontested fact in it, and no up-to-date man believes such things; then, the preachers themselves do not really believe what they say, they preach only to make an easy living, and are really hypocrites, as their own actions often show.”       

            R. C. H. Lenski, Mark, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1934, p. 108.

 

Rocky Soil

The second group is similar to seed sown on rocky soil. A grain crop will send down deep roots, but rocky soil will first promote rapid germination by soaking up the warmth of the sun and then kill the plant by preventing proper root growth. Often sunflower seeds will germinate and grow on a flat roof with some soil blown onto it. But the seedlings quickly die from the heat as well as the lack of moisture and soil. In the same way, people will hear the Gospel and rejoice in the forgiveness of their sins. However, they cannot tolerate any hardship from illness or poverty. They are like Sloth, who falls into the Slough of Despond in Pilgrim’s Progress. “If this is how the journey begins, then how can I finish?” These people miss the joys of being a Christian during times of affliction and persecution, for the Light shines all the more brightly in the dark night of the soul.

 

J-211

"The second class of hearers are those who receive the Word with joy, but they do not persevere. These are also a large multitude who understand the Word correctly and lay hold of it in its purity without any spirit of sect, division or fanaticism, they rejoice also in that they know the real truth, and are able to know how they may be saved without works through faith...But when the sun shines hot it withers, because it has no soil and moisture, and only rock is there. So these do; in times of persecution they deny or keep silence about the Word and work, speak and suffer all that their persecutors mention or wish, who formerly went forth and spoke, and confessed with a fresh and joyful spirit the same, while there was peace and no heat, so that there was hope they would bear much fruit and serve the people."

            Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed. John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 116.

 

Lenski adds that the rockiness of the soil is the hidden hardness of men’s hearts, revealed only when persecution comes because of the Word. Rocky soil can look outwardly soft and fertile, like the front yard of our last parsonage. Digging a few inches revealed construction trash, rocks, and excess concrete dumped in the ground. No gardener would expect long-term growth in such soil.

 

Thorns

Jesus compares the third group to seed sown where thorns grow and choke the crop. How many have returned from a long vacation in August to find their favorite crops choked by weeds? The plants may grow, but they will not produce well and be fruitful. Thus many different cares push the Gospel from the hearts of believers: ordinary concerns, lust for money, self-centered pleasure. Many are too busy working for their daily bread, and luxuries, to thank their Creator for their material and spiritual blessings. One would be hard-pressed to find many faithful and thankful Christians on the Forbes magazine list of the wealthiest people in America. In the parable, not wealth, but “the deceitfulness of riches” is compared to the thorns.[17] Lenski wrote: “Wealth as such, whether one has it or not, always tends to deceive, by promising a satisfaction which it can not and does not bring, thus deceiving him who has it or who longs for it (Mark 10:24, p).”[18] Weeds have the ability to seem harmless at first. Many believers have fallen away from the faith by saying to themselves, “This particular evil desire (alcohol, gambling, prestige, power, another person’s spouse, another man’s divine call) will not harm me.” Slowly the weed chokes the plant. We are inclined to praise ourselves for withstanding one obvious temptation while letting our faith be strangled by a different evil desire, one more subtle.

 

J-212

"Therefore they [who are fallen among thorns] do not earnestly give themselves to the Word, but become indifferent and sink in the cares, riches and pleasures of this life, so that they are of no benefit to anyone. Therefore they are like the seed that fell among the thorns...They know their duty but do it not, they teach but do not practice what they teach, and are this year as they were last."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed. John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 117.

 

The three groups are meant to warn listeners to avoid the dangers of 1) letting go of the Word because of Satan’s work; 2) running from the Gospel during difficult and dangerous times; and 3) letting anything displace God from our hearts.

 

Good Soil

The fourth comparison, the seed sown on good soil, assures us that the fruitfulness of the Word will be evident in the yield: 30 fold, 60 fold, 100 fold. When children are handed packets of sunflower seeds in the spring and told to plant them, they soon find out how the parable repeats itself in their own experience. Some seeds are lost on the way home. Others are eaten by the children. Some plants begin to grow but fail. However, one sunflower seed-head alone is always more than all the seeds originally given away. When a few children bring their largest seed-heads to church, they see the power of God in Creation and in the Gospel. The baptized children themselves are testimony to the growth of the Gospel through the visible Word. (See Chapter Eight.)

 

The perfect harmony of the Scriptures is illustrated in St. Peter’s use of the seed image:

 

Incorruptible Seed in 1 Peter 1:23

 

KJV 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

 

BYZ 1 Peter 1:23 avnagegennhme,noi ouvk evk spora/j fqarth/j avlla. avfqa,rtou dia. lo,gou zw/ntoj qeou/ kai. me,nontoj eivj to.n aivw/naĹ

 

The Vacation Bible School class got into an old musty closet in the basement of the church in New Ulm, Minnesota. Lining the shelves of the closet were large glass jars of seed: corn, grass, and wheat. No one knew how long the jars had been stored there. Two bats had died in the closet and dried up, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown. So we took the seed outside and spread it on the ground. The seed retained its appearance but years of storage robbed it of vitality. Time corrupted the seed and made it unappealing to the birds. Instead of swarming to the seed, they left it alone.

 

The born-again language in this passage is a refrain from the introduction:

 

KJV 1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

 

BYZ 1 Peter 1:3 Euvloghto.j o` qeo.j kai. path.r tou/ kuri,ou h`mw/n VIhsou/ Cristou/ o` kata. to. polu. auvtou/ e;leoj avnagennh,saj h`ma/j eivj evlpi,da zw/san di avnasta,sewj VIhsou/ Cristou/ evk nekrw/n.

 

Baptists walk all over Lutherans with their version of “You must be born again.” The apostle Peter does not connect being born again to “making a decision” any more than the apostle John does. The spiritually dead are given a new birth through the preaching of the Word. The opening of the epistle speaks of being born again by the resurrection of Christ, and verse 23 through the Word. This is not a contradiction. The power of the resurrection of Christ comes from the proclamation of that central truth. The Gospel gives life and defeats death. A corollary is that the resurrection of Christ reveals that death is defeated through the Savior. The Gospel is both forgiveness of sin and resurrection, so we are born again by the Word and by the resurrection of our Lord.

 

J-213

“Through a seed are we born again, for nothing grows as we see except from seed. Did the old birth spring from a seed? Then must the new birth also spring from a seed. But what is this seed? Not flesh and blood! What then? It is not a corruptible, but an eternal Word. It is moreover that on which we live; our food and nourishment. But especially is it the seed from which we are born again, as he here says. But how does this take place? After this manner: God lets the word, the Gospel, be scattered abroad, and the seed falls in the hearts of men. Now wherever it sticks in the heart, the Holy Spirit is present and makes a new man. Then there will indeed be another man, of other thoughts, of other words, and works. Thus you are entirely changed. All that you before avoided you now seek, and what you before sought that you now avoid. In respect to the birth of the body, it is a fact that when conception takes place the seed is changed, so that it is seed no longer. But this is a seed that cannot be changed; it remains forever. It changes me, so that I am transformed in it, and whatever is evil in me from my nature passes away. Therefore it is indeed a wonderful birth, and of extraordinary seed.”

            Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, ed. John Lenker, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990.

 

J-214

“Just why the fact of our regeneration should prove such a strong motive to us to give evidence of our faith in love is shown in the description of regeneration, when the apostle states that this new birth in our hearts is not the result of perishable, corruptible seed, as the growth of earthly plants would be, but of an incorruptible, imperishable seed, the Word of God, The Gospel of the Savior Jesus Christ. This Word of God is in itself living, full of life and of life-giving power. And it abides in eternity; even after the form of the Word, in Scripture and preaching, has passed away, the content of the Gospel will remain in eternity. Thus the life which is wrought in the hearts of men through the Gospel is a true, divine, and therefore imperishable life, and it will continue in the life of eternity.”

            Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 19 , II, p. 523.

 

Many of those who love the classical Lutheran authors of the past find themselves bewildered by the rejection of these men by their own synodical publication houses. Superb old volumes go out of print, while dreadful new books of false doctrine get promoted as required reading. In the last days of a mad old world, these things must take place. Unbelievers in charge of Lutheran synods do not want to associate with the imperishable Word. They prefer the worldly wisdom that promises them—not eternal life—but material blessings. Those who love the voice of the Shepherd follow Him. They are not gathered by the synod or by the newest methods, but by the Word.

 

J-215

“They that trust in the things of this world will find themselves bitterly disappointed at the last. For only God’s Word has lasting value; it endures throughout eternity, it alone stands firm and unmoved in the midst of this world of death. If we but place our trust in this Word, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it will lift and take us safe through the uncertainty and decay and misery and wretchedness of this world to the eternal life of salvation. Once more, then, the apostle calls out: But this is the Word which in the Gospel is preached to you. If we place our trust in this Word, in this glorious Gospel, then we are safe, here in time and hereafter in eternity.”

Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 19 , II, p. 523.[19]

 

The Engrafted Word in James 1:21

 

James 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

 

BYZ James 1:21 dio. avpoqe,menoi pa/san r`upari,an kai. perissei,an kaki,aj evn prau<thti de,xasqe to.n e;mfuton lo,gon to.n duna,menon sw/sai ta.j yuca.j u`mw/n.

 

Another example of Biblical harmony can be found in James’ concise yet powerful reference to the Sower and the Seed. The author urges his listeners to receive the Word with meekness, the very quality of Christ Himself.[20] The vineyard and orchard workers would understand immediately the image of the Word grafted onto their hearts and growing, pushing aside the works of the flesh and promoting the fruits of the Spirit.

 

J-216

”To be sure, the readers are also to hear it [the Word] again and again, James himself in this epistle continuing this implanting; what he means is that they shall completely accept the Word, which they have already heard and will continue to hear. James may, indeed, have in mind the parable of the Sower and the Seed, and the good soil that produces a hundred fold.”

            R. C. H. Lenski, James, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1938, p. 561.

 

J-217

“It is not the man but the Word that multiplies. The Word indeed, in itself, is a fixed entity, and as such neither to be increased or decreased. Its multiplication is in its spread more and more in one heart, and more and more from one heart to other hearts. It is thus that the hearers bear fruit. When thus the Word remains and flourishes in a heart, repentance, faith, Christian virtues and works result, whereby the Word spreads more and more.”

            R. C. H. Lenski, Mark, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1934, p. 111.

 

J-218

“The disposition of the believers rather is this, that they daily and ever again receive the implanted Word, accept anew the message of their salvation and sanctification as it is brought to them in the Gospel. The seed which has sprouted in their hearts is supposed to grow into a strong, healthy plant, and therefore it is necessary that they hear and learn the Word, which alone is able to save their souls, day after day, never growing weary of its wonderful truths.”

Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, II, p. 501.

 

J-219

1)     Almighty God, thy word is cast

Like seed into the ground,

Now let the dew of heaven descend

And righteous fruits abound.

 

2)     Let not the foe of Christ and man

This holy seed remove,

But give it root in every heart

To bring forth fruits of love.

 

3)     Let not the world's deceitful cares

The rising plant destroy,

But let it yield a hundredfold

The fruits of peace and joy.

 

4)     Oft as the precious seed is sown

Thy quickening grace bestow,

That all whose souls the truth receive

Its saving power may know."

John Cawood, 1775-1852, "Almighty God, Thy Word Is Cast," Service Book and Hymnal, Philadephia: Board of Publication, 1958, Hymn #196. TLH Hymn #49.

 

The parable does not teach that we should test the soil before we proclaim the Word. A farmer, using this logic, would know which seed and even what plants would produce well. Those with actual experience in growing plants are too humble to predict the future, knowing that their field is in God’s hands, even today, with satellite weather services, advanced drainage, scientific fertilizers, and hybrid seed. Experienced pastors also realize that they must preach the Word faithfully without trying to measure when and how God will bless the labor.

 

J-220

"The efficacy of the Word, unlike that of the seed, always has a result. The man to whom the Word of God comes, and who repels it, is not as he was before. Where long and persistently refused, hardening at last comes, Exodus 8:15; 9:12; John 12:40; Hebrews 4:1, and the Word becomes a 'savor of death unto death,' 2 Corinthians 2:16. Every word heard or read, every privilege and opportunity enjoyed, leaves its impress either for good or for evil. It is not so properly the Word, as man's abuse of the Word; not so much the efficacy of the Word, as the sin taking occasion of the efficacy that produces this result, Romans 7:8."

Henry Eyster Jacobs, Elements of Religion, Philadelphia, Board of Publication, General Council , 1919, p. 155.

 

The parable does not teach the exact percentage of results from proclaiming the Gospel. The four groups are not meant to represent to us that one fourth of our work will be fruitful and three fourths unproductive. Instead, we see that God’s Word will multiply in spite of all the discouraging things that work against it. Soil-testing, a Church Growth concept, is nonsense based upon Zwinglian doctrine.

 

J-221

"Soil Testing. An evangelistic strategy that seeks out those people who are open to receiving the gospel at the present time."

C. Peter Wagner, ed., with Win Arn and Elmer Towns, Church Growth: The State of the Art, Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986, p. 300.[21]

 

J-222

"In my opinion, therefore, Church Growth receptivity and 'soil testing' techniques are often unfairly criticized as if they were by definition synergistic. It is a fact that some fields are, for various historical and sociological reasons, more receptive to the preaching of the gospel and church planting than others. Our home and world mission boards make these judgments all the time in deciding where to begin churches or send missionaries."

Rev. Curtis Peterson, former WELS World Mission Board, "A Second and Third Look at Church Growth Principles," Metro South Pastors Conference Mishicot, Wisconsin, February 3, 1993 p. 12.

 

J-223

"Those, however, who set the time, place and measure, tempt God, and believe not that they are heard or that they have obtained what they asked; therefore, they also receive nothing."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, III, p. 172.

 

J-224

"If the world were willing to take advice from a simple, plain man—that is, our Lord God (who, after all, has some experience too and knows how to rule)—the best advice would be that in his office and sphere of jurisdiction everybody simply direct his thoughts and plans to carrying out honestly and doing in good faith what has been commanded him and that, whatever he does, he depend not on his own plans and thoughts but commit the care to God. Such a man would certainly find out in the end who does and accomplishes more, he who trusts God or he who would bring success to his cause through his own wisdom and thoughts or his own power and strength."

What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, III, p. 1151. Luke 5:1-11.

 

The first three groups of hearers are not enemies of the Gospel, for Jesus taught this parable to warn us within the visible Church, that many have no genuine relationship with Him. They have heard the Word, but the Gospel has been snatched away, scorched, and choked to death. Jesus also taught the parable to help us realize the abundant harvest that will take place from the growth of the Word. The parable illustrates the ultimate fate of the proclaimed Gospel, so we are not to reckon, worry, predict, or assume, but simply to fear, love, and trust God above all else. God will accomplish what He has promised, through His efficacious Word.

 

J-225

“We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,

But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.

He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,

The breezes and the sunshine and soft refreshing rain.”

Matthias Claudius, 1740-1815, “We Plow the Fields,” The Lutheran Book of Worship, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978, #362.

The Parable of the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30

 

KJV Matthew 13:24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? 28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Parable of the Tares Explained in Matthew 13:36-43

 

KJV Matthew 13:36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. 37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; 38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; 39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. 41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

 

Luther said that we would not understand this parable at all if the Lord had not explained it to us. Sincere Biblical students can become confused between this parable and the Sower and the Seed. In the earlier parable, the seed is the Word of God. In this parable the good seed represents genuine Christians. Tares are the weed seeds that illustrate the work of false Christians who really belong to Satan.

An herbalist said, “Every plant has a weed that looks exactly like it at first. Once the weed gets big enough to produce a flower or seed the difference is obvious, but the weed is a lot harder to remove. A gardener showed me how to pull weeds from his carefully cultivated flowerbeds at our first parsonage. I tore away with youthful enthusiasm and a beginner’s eye for horticulture. The judgment was swift and absolute. The gardener said to my astonished wife, “I never want your husband to touch the flowerbeds again!” I did not, but overcompensated later by writing a gardening book.

Christ alone sows the good seed, but Satan plants counterfeit seed, tares, in the Christian Church, so that nothing good, worthwhile, or spiritual is allowed to remain unpersecuted. Although the parable seems to be depressing and pessimistic at first, Christ intends to comfort rather than alarm us. This is an accurate portrayal of the world, where Satan’s followers are so perfectly blended with sincere Christians that few can discern the difference. The Word bristles the hides of Satan’s disciples, so we should not be shocked that the cross is never far from the Gospel. The parable does not forbid doctrinal discipline in the Church, for the field is the world, not the Church (Matthew 13:37). The parable forbids issuing death sentences for heretics, since God’s angels will make suitable arrangements.

The Anabaptists cited this parable as a reason they should be tolerated. Luther agreed, stating that the State had no business using the secular sword to solve religious problems.[22] As he wisely noted, death separates the heretic from any additional ministration of the Word. Anyone who has found the pure Word of God after spending years among the heterodox will understand and appreciate the value of giving the Word a chance to accomplish God’s will.

 

J-226

"For this parable treats not of false Christians, who are so only outwardly in their lives, but of those who are unchristian in their doctrine and faith under the name Christian, who beautifully play the hypocrite and work harm. It is a matter of the conscience and not of the hand. And they must be very spiritual servants to be able to identify the tares among the wheat. And the sum of all is that we should not marvel nor be terrified if there spring up among us many different false teachings and false faiths. Satan is constantly among the children of God. Job 1:6"

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John N. Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 101f.

 

Another lesson of the parable comes naturally to gardeners and farmers. Weed seeds are amazingly vital at first. They last for decades in the soil and germinate without provocation. They require little water and the plants develop deep taproots or extensive, invasive shallow roots. Weeds tolerate the worst soil but thrive in the best soil. The story is told of a blind farmer who is looking for a new farm in uncultivated land. He said to his son, “Tie the mule to the nearest thistle.” The son replied, “No thistle is strong enough to hold the mule.” The farmer concluded, “We will move on. This soil is not healthy enough for our crops.” Therefore, we can observe how Satan’s disciples are strongest where the Bible is held in the highest esteem. Their weedy network grows green and lush. Extraordinary donations confirm them in their error. But they yield nothing at the harvest. They are sterile.

No one gathers and sells weed seeds. No one values weed seeds. No one wants to have weed seeds in the good seed they buy. Similarly, no one wants the Unitarianism, bitter strife, carnality, and destruction predestined by the work of false teachers, flashy revivals, super churches, movements without the Means of Grace, and union movements based on doctrinal compromise. Impressive religious groups should not intimidate or alarm the ordinary Christian or faithful congregation. Their boastfulness about themselves should alert the believer not to covet the weeds for their lush growth.

J-227

"Let us learn more and more to look upon the Lutheran Church with the right kind of spiritual eyes: it is the most beautiful and glorious Church; for it is adorned with God's pure Word. This adornment is so precious, that even though an orthodox congregation were to consist of very poor people - let us say nothing but woodchoppers - and met in a barn (as the Lord Christ also lay here on earth in a barn, on hay and straw), every Christian should much, much rather prefer to affiliate himself with this outwardly so insignificant congregation, rather than with a heterodox congregation, even if its members were all bank presidents and assembled in a church built of pure marble. Let us be sure that our flesh, and the talk of others does not darken the glory of the orthodox Church, or crowd it out of our sight."

Francis Pieper, The Difference between Orthodox and Heterodox Churches, and Supplement, Coos Bay, Oregon: St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 1981, p. 47.

J-228

"Today's Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing, since the good seed is sowed only by Christ, and Satan sows nothing but evil seed; as we also see that the field of itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat, although the field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat. In the same way the false Christians among the true Christians are of no use but to feed the world and be food for Satan, and they are so beautifully green and hypocritical, as if they alone were the saints, and hold the place in Christendom as if they were lords there, and the government and highest places belonged to them; and for no other reason than that they glory that they are Christians and are among Christians in the church of Christ, although they see and confess that they live unchristian lives."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John N. Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 103.

 

Jonah, the Reluctant Missionary to the Gentiles

 

Some wish to dictate the work of the Holy Spirit, telling Him how much visible growth they expect from His efforts in the next five years. Others are inclined to think of God as having no arms but theirs, no hands but theirs, no legs but theirs. Both types should study the historical example of Jonah, the reluctant missionary to the Gentiles. The work of Jonah is dated during the reign of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-25), whose reign began around 793 BC. The Word of God commanded Jonah:

 

Jonah 1:2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it;

for their wickedness is come up before me.

 

God said, “Go east to Ninevah,” and Jonah headed due west on a ship toward Joppa, at the edge of the world, as far away from his appointed mission as possible. Jonah had a different mission vision in mind. He may have been reluctant to see a notorious non-Jewish city enjoy the fruits of repentance and faith. We know from Jonah 4:1-2 that the prophet was angry over the conversion of Ninevah, that he had not expected the effectiveness of the Word.

No one is surprised that Jonah was afraid to teach the Word to an alien culture in a city known for its wickedness. Ninevah was not just one town, but a complex of four cities (Genesis 10:11-12). Arriving alone in a metropolitan complex 60 miles across (3 days journey, Jonah 3:3), armed only with the Word—most would prefer to pay double-fare for a ticket in the opposite direction, rather than undergo such a unique mission opportunity.

Here we see how God provides means to carry out His will, even when men have other plans. God sent such a powerful wind on the sea that the waves threatened to destroy the ship. The sailors threw all of the cargo, a fortune in goods, into the sea. Jonah slept in the lowest parts of the ship, exhausted perhaps from guilt and anxiety. The captain woke him and ordered him to pray for safety.

When sailors drew lots to discover the cause of the trouble, the lot fell on Jonah. Everything pointed to him. He had told them that he was running away from God. The supernatural power of the storm and the roll of the dice pointed toward the prophet. Doubtless his face was more proof of his guilt than the dice. The sailors resisted the solution of throwing Jonah into the sea, but their superhuman effort to row towards land was thwarted by an even greater storm. With the forces of Creation showing such rage, the superstitious sailors prayerfully threw Jonah into the boiling sea.

The sea becalmed at once, throwing the sailors into a paroxysm of fear. They offered a sacrifice and took vows.

God sent a great fish to swallow Jonah. He could not hide from the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the seas and the dry land, as Jonah himself had confessed to the sailors (Jonah 1:9). God sent the storm to stop Jonah’s westward progress, then appointed the whale to swallow Jonah and vomit the wayward prophet onto the shores of his mission station. Rationalists pretend to balk at the notion of a great fish, whether a whale or shark, swallowing a man, keeping him alive, and delivering him to the right place. Jonah was often the subject of debate in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in the 1970s, since many pastors and professors openly doubted the Biblical account.[23] Some conservatives think that a mounted and stuffed creature, festooned with a plaque, “Jonah slept here,” would satisfy all doubters. But the great fish is not really the focus of doubt and fear. The hidden fear, beneath the mockery of intellectual evasions, echoes Jonah’s discovery in the belly of the beast – we can run, but we cannot hide from God. He has appointed our mission. His power is so great that all of nature obeys His Word. One miracle after another can be unleashed to bring us back to the fold.[24]

God determined that Jonah would preach repentance to the Ninevites, who must have wondered at the sight of the humbled foreigner in their midst. Jonah was not powerful, but the Sword of the Lord was so effective that the entire city repented. The king joined in showing his contrition and declared fasting and sackcloth for man and animal alike (Jonah 3:6-9). Universal wickedness, which may have included bestiality, indicated universal contrition. God relented. The threatened disaster was canceled. God turned from His fierce anger.

Skeptics fail to see the Gospel in Jonah’s preaching, but those who strain out a whale can easily miss Jonah 4:2 as well:

 

 

Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish:

for I knew that thou art a gracious God,

and merciful,

slow to anger,

and of great kindness,

and repentest thee of the evil.

 

!WNx;-lae hT'a; yKi yTi[.d;y" yKi

 ds,x,-br;w> ~yIP;a; %r,a, ~Wxr;w>

`h['r'h'-l[; ~x'nIw>

 

The attributes of God confessed by Jonah, and certainly preached by him to Ninevah, (Jonah 3:9) are exclusively from the Gospel. The Law always condemns and can never offer grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, or peace.

 

J-229

"All preaching of sin and God's wrath is a preaching of the Law, no matter how or when it may be done. On the other hand, the Gospel is such preaching as sets forth and bestows nothing but grace and forgiveness in Christ. And yet it is true that the Apostles and preachers of the Gospel sanctioned the preaching of the Law, as Christ Himself did, and began with this in the case of those who had not yet acknowledged their sins and had felt no fear of God's anger."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, IV, p. 158.

 

The Book of Jonah is clearly Law and Gospel, because Jonah is a figure of Christ, as Jesus taught in Matthew 12:40. The ending of the book also illustrates the Gospel with ironic humor. Jonah was so angry and displeased about God sparing the repentant city that he wanted to die. God allowed Jonah his bitter brooding in the hot sun, causing a fast-growing vine to grow up and shade him, then causing a worm to kill the plant, exposing the prophet to the sun and an appointed withering wind. (Jonah 4:8) The prophet wanted to die rather than endure the heat. He was morbidly angry over the loss of his plant.

God used the loss of the plant to teach Jonah the meaning of mercy. If Jonah could have pity on a plant he did not work to grow or create, something so short-lived, then why could he not understand the mercy of God shown to a city with 120,000 young children (babies too young to know their right hands from their left)? In this conclusion we see especially the loving-kindness of God, that He would appoint Jonah to Ninevah for the sake of these children, send a storm to cut off his escape from the mission, appoint a great fish to rescue Jonah from the sea, work upon the entire city through the Law and Gospel, then work upon the bitter prophet’s heart through a vine and a worm.[25]

 

God Gives the Increase in 1 Corinthians 3:4-9

 

1 Corinthians 3:4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.

 

BYZ 1 Corinthians 3:4 o[tan ga.r le,gh| tij VEgw. me,n eivmi Pau,lou e[teroj de, VEgw. VApollw/ ouvci. sarkikoi, evste 5 ti,j ou=n evstin Pau/loj ti,j de, VApollw/j avllv h' dia,konoi di w-n evpisteu,sate kai. e`ka,stw| w`j o` ku,rioj e;dwken 6 evgw. evfu,teusa VApollw/j evpo,tisen avllv o` qeo.j hu;xanen\ 7 w[ste ou;te o` futeu,wn evsti,n ti ou;te o` poti,zwn avll o` auvxa,nwn qeo,j 8 o` futeu,wn de. kai. o` poti,zwn e[n eivsin e[kastoj de. to.n i;dion misqo.n lh,yetai kata. to.n i;dion ko,pon\ 9 qeou/ ga,r evsmen sunergoi, qeou/ gew,rgion qeou/ oivkodomh, evste.

 

St. Paul’s mission to the Gentiles placed him in danger many times, even though he did not run away from God’s presence. The apostolic letters to the Corinthians leave little doubt that he encountered a host of major problems—from childish strife to gross immorality and desecration of the Lord’s Supper. This particular passage deals with the party spirit dividing the congregation, 1 Corinthians 1:11. Some identified with Paul, some with Apollos.[26] It should not surprise us that today conflict in the congregation is caused by exactly the same problem—an emphasis upon the person and a lack of trust in the efficacy of the Word.

Paul first attacked the problem of strife by negating the effectiveness of the individual. The ministry does not derive its divine power from personalities but from the Word. Our temptation to rely upon salvation by works, in spite of our confession, is revealed by the tendency to compare and contrast men when they are only instruments of God’s power. One cannot even compare the type of word, as Paul stated:

 

I have planted, Apollos watered;

but God gave the increase.

1 Corinthians 3:6

 

Many people find their gardening efforts thwarted because the seeds they planted did not germinate well. The proper amount of moisture needed for germination is taken for granted in America, unlike in Paul’s world. [27] We do not plant the last of our seed (Psalm 126:5) with tears. But where rain is rare and food is precious, the watering of the sown crop is essential. Paul’s comparison reminds us that planting and watering are both necessary, yet only God can give the growth.

 

J-230

"On what has now been sown

Thy blessing, Lord, bestow;

The power is Thine alone

To make it spring and grow.

Do Thou in grace the harvest raise,

And Thou alone shalt have the praise."

John Newton, 1779, cento, alt., "On What Has Now Been Sown," The Lutheran Hymnal, #46, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941.

 

J-231

“The work in Corinth was that of obtaining a spiritual crop. To Paul’s lot it fell to break the ground and to plant the seed of the Word; God caused the seed to strike root and to spring up. Then came Apollos and tended the young plants by developing the life of faith, by confirming the believers in their Christian knowledge; God’s merciful power accompanied his efforts and caused the plants to bring forth fruit. It follows, then, that neither he that plants nor he that irrigates is anything; they are mere instruments in the hand of God, the Lord of the harvest, who alone gives the growth, and to whom, therefore, all glory must be given: He is everything, He alone remains, all others are excluded.”

            Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, II, p. 99.

 

The negation of the person is repeated in 1 Corinthians 3:7. Neither the sower nor the one who waters is anything. The only One Who causes growth is God. Paul’s inspired argument destroys the foundation for any strife about the abilities and labor of various people. The missionary who begins a congregation is nothing. The man who helps to germinate the work of the congregation is nothing. God causes the increase while we go through the motions.

 

J-232

"But ye have not the power to create faith. For there is a great difference between planting and giving the growth; as Paul says to the Corinthians: 'I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.' 1 Corinthians 3:6"

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 362.

 

J-233

“The two aorists: ‘I planted,’ ‘he watered,’ point into the past—the men did their little work and are gone. So it is still: each performs his little instrumental task and leaves. When he is describing God’s activity Paul writes the imperfect hu;xanen (gave the increase) which refers to an act begun in the past but going on and on indefinitely, for the tense is open and sets no terminus. Paul and Apollos have left Corinth, God is still there and causing the growing. Why quarrel about men when the Corinthians should unite in praising God?”

R. C. H. Lenski, Corinthians, Columbus: Wartburg Press, 1947, p. 128.

 

Those who doubt the power of the Word alone are exasperated by this explanation, saying, “If God can do everything and does everything, where do we fit in? Why even try?” In a world governed by Law, it does seem strange to say that God does everything, but nothing is more liberating than realizing we only need to be faithful. Pharisaical weakness makes us want to glory in our own deeds and not in God’s power, so we are inclined to adulterate the Gospel, sell it as a commodity, cheapen it, or make it appealing as a way of proving our worth.[28] The antidote is to boast about God rather than ourselves:

 

KJV 1 Corinthians 1:31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)

 

BYZ 1 Corinthians 1:31 i[na kaqw.j ge,graptai ~O kaucw,menoj evn kuri,w| kauca,sqw.

 

J-234

"And it is of advantage, so far as can be done, to adorn the ministry of the Word with every kind of praise against fanatical men, who dream that the Holy Ghost is given not through the Word, but because of certain preparations of their own, if they sit unoccupied and silent in obscure places, waiting for illumination, as the Enthusiasts formerly taught, and the Anabaptists now teach."

Article XIII, The Sacraments, 13, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 311. Tappert, p. 213. Heiser, p. 95.

 

Verse nine concludes the argument with an invocation of the Triune God. Paul holds the distinct office of the preaching ministry, making him, with all of his faults, a co-worker with God. He would have been shocked beyond measure to have all the members considered ministers too. They, with all of their faults, are the cultivation of God and the building of God. The three-fold expression emphasizes the preacher employing the power of God’s Word while the congregation enjoys the growing and the edifying accomplished by the Holy Spirit working through the Word alone. Thus we have a simple, yet profound way to remember the faithful work of the Christian Church:

The Word and Sacraments – Of God

The Growth of Souls – Of God

The Strengthening of the Congregation – Of God.

 

The True Vine in John 15:1-8

Cultivation or husbandry is the subject of Jesus’ sermon on The True Vine.

 

Verse 1

KJV John 15:1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

 

BYZ John 15:1 VEgw, eivmi h` a;mpeloj h` avlhqinh, kai. o` path,r mou o` gewrgo,j evstin.

 

To help us understand the relationship of the Father and Son, and our relationship to God, Jesus has given us a vivid, earthy sermon. Not many people raise grapes, but many have tried unsuccessfully to grow roses. Roses grow according to the same rules established by God for grape vines. This section is a perfect model for growing roses because the Lord of Creation uses His principles to explain His message. He is, as the Greek text shows us in its emphasis, the One True Vine. In other words, contrary to popular claims, there is no other vine, no alternative to salvation. “No one comes to the Father, except through Me.”

 

Verse 2

KJV John 15:2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

 

BYZ John 15:2 pa/n klh/ma evn evmoi. mh. fe,ron karpo,n ai;rei auvto, kai. pa/n to. karpo.n fe,ron kaqai,rei auvto. i[na plei,ona karpo.n fe,rh.

 

In one verse Jesus describes the principle of two-fold pruning, still applicable today. Bushes and vines always have deadwood. The deadwood is not only unproductive, but also injurious to the plant. Most people have poor luck with roses because they rely on luck and not the principles of Creation. Roses love to be pruned. When my sister-in-law Kris left me alone for an hour with her unproductive roses, I pruned two-thirds of each bush away. I also explained to her, when she came back, while she was still crying, “When these roses bloom, and they will in two weeks, prune the branch as soon as the rose starts to fade. It is trying to set seed. Pruning will make the branch send out a new bloom. Read John 15.”

Two weeks later, Kris phoned long distance, crying again, to say, “The roses are blooming! They are absolutely filled with blooms!” Later, when we lived on the same block with my brother, we ordered roses together and I planted them. Now the new roses are tall and productive. Two weeks before our niece Ida graduated from high school, Kris pruned her roses, cutting off the blooms. My brother Allen said, “What are you doing? Ida is going to graduate and you are cutting off the flowers!” Kris said, “Just wait.” When we arrived for the graduation, all the bushes were filled with roses. They were tall and stately plants with perfect blooms. Kris is now the neighborhood expert on roses, because her bushes are so productive.

The two-fold pruning is a warning to us. If we turn away from the Gospel and become unproductive, we will be taken away, cast into Hell. The bearing branches will be pruned

(purged) so that they will be even more productive.[29] This pruning seems mysterious, if not cruel, until it is explained in the next verse.

 

Verse 3

KJV John 15:3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

 

BYZ John 15:3 h;dh u`mei/j kaqaroi, evste dia. to.n lo,gon o]n lela,lhka u`mi/n.

 

The purging takes place through the spoken Word, which is never separated from the cross. An infinite variety of troubles and persecution will come from being faithful to the Gospel. While these afflictions seem harsh, and our Old Adam rebels and complains about them, they make us even more fruitful. Forgiveness itself is the greatest blessing of the Gospel, yielding the nine-fold fruits of the Spirit.[30] All the blessings of the Christian life come from the forgiveness of sin.[31]

 

Verse 4

KJV John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

 

BYZ John 15:4 mei,nate evn evmoi, kavgw. evn u`mi/n kaqw.j to. klh/ma ouv du,natai karpo.n fe,rein avf e`autou/ eva.n mh. mei,nh| evn th/| avmpe,lw| ou[twj ouvde. u`mei/j eva.n mh. evn evmoi. mei,nhte.

 

Jesus’ Gospel invitation is not to do but to receive. The tender rose bud receives food from the plant. The cluster of grapes receives the energy needed to grow. Being a Christian is not defined by working for God’s but by receiving His grace. When believers hear the Word of God and receive the visible Word of Holy Communion, they bear the fruit of the Gospel. No one would argue that a separated branch could grow and produce on its own. Likewise, we should not imagine a person being fruitful in the Christian faith apart from worship, studying the Word, and receiving the Sacrament of forgiveness.[32]

Christ promises that when we are in Him, the One True Vine, He is also in us. He is glued to us through the Word, at work in us, guiding and comforting us.

Verse 5

KJV John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

 

BYZ John 15:5 evgw, eivmi h` a;mpeloj u`mei/j ta. klh,mata o` me,nwn evn evmoi. kavgw. evn auvtw/| ou-toj fe,rei karpo.n polu,n o[ti cwri.j evmou/ ouv du,nasqe poiei/n ouvde,n.

 

Knowing our weakness and our need to hear the same message in different words, Christ addresses our tendency to define the Christian faith as qualifying for acceptance through our merits or good works. When we remain with the One True Vine, through the Means of Grace, Christ remains with us. We must never forget that. He is as close to us as the bud is to the plant. Being fruitful is a necessary consequence of receiving the blessings of Christ through trust in the Word. To clarify this relationship, Christ also condemns any inkling that He is merely one of many ways, various truths, and alternative life-styles.

 

Verse 6

KJV John 15:6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

 

BYZ John 15:6 eva.n mh, tij mei,nh| evn evmoi, evblh,qh e;xw w`j to. klh/ma kai. evxhra,nqh kai. suna,gousin auvta. kai. eivj to. pu/r ba,llousin kai. kai,etai.

 

The five-fold warning about removing ourselves from the Means of Grace parallels the effort of pruning deadwood.[33] Pruned branches are removed and burned because they harbor disease and harmful insects. The warning of Christ is not against lack of doing but lack of receiving, contrary to what most church executives today imagine. The person who does not remain in Christ is:

Thrown away, no longer of value to God;

Withered, that is, spiritually dead from separating himself from Christ;

Gathered, for the Day of Judgment;

Thrown into the fire, condemned for unbelief;

Burned, suffering in Hell for eternity.

 

Verse 7

KJV John 15:7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

 

BYZ John 15:7 eva.n mei,nhte evn evmoi. kai. ta. r`h,mata, mou evn u`mi/n mei,nh| o] eva.n qe,lhte aivth,sesqe kai. genh,setai u`mi/n.

 

Our loving Savior encourages us to pray through His gracious promises. One of many blessings of the Christian life is asking God to help us in our emotional, material, and spiritual needs. The Son of God assures us that what we ask will be given to us.

 

Verse 8

John 15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

 

BYZ John 15:8 evn tou,tw| evdoxa,sqh o` path,r mou i[na karpo.n polu.n fe,rhte kai. genh,sesqe evmoi. maqhtai, .

 

Fruitfulness necessarily follows from remaining in Christ and His teaching not to glorify man, but to glorify God. One cannot divorce a relationship with Christ from adherence to His Word, contrary to those who teach that the production of good feelings eliminates the need for sound doctrine. Resting in the Word alone unites us with Christ, makes us fruitful, moves us to pray, grants us our requests, and glorifies God the Father. All comes from God, for God the Son is the True Vine and the vinedresser is God the Father.

If we cultivate roses with John 15:1-8 in mind, every aspect of pruning, budding, and blooming reminds us of the power of the Gospel.

 

Inevitable Growth in Matthew 13:33

KJV Matthew 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

 

BYZ Matthew 13:33 :Allhn parabolh.n evla,lhsen auvtoi/j\ ~Omoi,a evsti.n h` basilei,a tw/n ouvranw/n zu,mh| h]n labou/sa gunh. e;kruyen eivj avleu,rou sa,ta tri,a e[wj ou- evzumw,qh o[lon.

 

One often-neglected parable simply compares the Kingdom to yeast hidden in dough until the dough is leavened. Those who have worked with yeast or sour dough can easily imagine what Christ teaches in only 19 words.

Just as we see in the True Vine, Christ gives us such a lively picture that we can no longer see the same image again without thinking of His words. The typical picture at the time of Jesus was one of a woman blending sourdough with the flour to make bread. The amount in the parable is a very large batch, a bushel basket of dough.

In Kitchener, Ontario, the women at St. Peter Lutheran Church often talked about Herman. Someone started sourdough, named it Herman, and passed samples to various women in the congregation. Herman grew and spread throughout the congregation, a parallel with the visible growth of the Gospel through the Means of Grace. Sourdough is an easier way to cultivate and preserve yeast than the yeast we buy in stores today. Yeast, once hidden in the dough, reveals its power in time.

More than one person has forgotten leavened dough in a warm place with a heavy metal lid over the pot to keep it moist. Rushing in to check the dough, the baker finds the dough risen, the lid pushed off the pan. Dough may even crawl out of the pan and rise on the kitchen floor. Yeast is humble and tiny but powerful in its mission over time. Professional bakers will save old dough in the freezer to add to the new batch, simply because it adds to the quality of the finished product.

Dough without yeast cannot be made into a worthwhile product. Our lives without the leaven of the Gospel are as spiritually lifeless as unleavened dough. The progress of the Gospel’s leaven is slow but unstoppable. If we remain in Christ, the Gospel permeates every aspect of our lives. We see many examples of this in the lives of faithful elderly Christians. They have spent so much time with the Word that their speech is permeated with Biblical wisdom. They know too well that they are sinners, but their patience, generosity, gentleness, and wisdom are remarkable to younger generations. When an elderly saintly person dies, we are to look upon the sight as an example of Christ displaying to us in advance a foretaste of heaven.

One woman in her nineties had endured extreme hardships, including a previous husband who had kicked her mercilessly while she was pregnant. She was filled with cancer and barely able to function at the end of her life, yet she was filled with love, joy, and peace. Her highpoint each week was receiving the Lord’s Supper. She had an uncanny ability to predict the day I would visit to give her Holy Communion. When she appeared to be wrong once, her kindly second husband gently kidded her for several days. She smiled with great joy when she learned that I had driven almost to her house, then turned around, after remembering a medical appointment. For her, death meant giving up her infirmities while enjoying the fulfillment of all the promises made in Christ. She was an excellent example of the Gospel yeast working through her entire being, until she was completely leavened.

In our society, too, we receive the benefit of the slow working of the leaven of the Gospel. Although our sinful condition remains, sincere believers reject and suppress sin through the Holy Spirit working in the Law. More importantly, the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel to make people more generous, patient, loving, forgiving, and selfless. The leaven of the Gospel in the preaching of Wilberforce in England moved the English to reject human slavery.

 

J-235

“Here again we see divine power, again wholly spiritual, and while operating altogether invisibly, producing any number of tangible effects, every one of them wholesome. The Gospel cannot but succeed, and the one work of the church is to preach, teach, and spread it in the world. The parable teaches faith, patience, hope, and joy.”

            R. C. H. Lenski, Matthew, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1932, p. 516. [Emphasis in original]

 

The Mustard Seed in Matthew 13:31-32

 

KJV Matthew 13:31 (Mark 4:31-32; Luke 13:19)Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: 32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

 

BYZ Matthew 13:31 :Allhn parabolh.n pare,qhken auvtoi/j le,gwn ~Omoi,a evsti.n h` basilei,a tw/n ouvranw/n ko,kkw| sina,pewj o]n labw.n a;nqrwpoj e;speiren evn tw/| avgrw/| auvtou/\ 32 o] mikro,teron me,n evstin pa,ntwn tw/n sperma,twn o[tan de. auvxhqh/| mei/zon tw/n laca,nwn evsti.n kai. gi,netai de,ndron w[ste evlqei/n ta. peteina. tou/ ouvranou/ kai. kataskhnou/n evn toi/j kla,doij auvtou/.

 

J-236

“This parable shows the Kingdom in its visible growth. A number of thoughts are directly involved or necessarily implied. The power of this Kingdom is divine. It is a living organism, and its life and power are undying—all other growths of earth have the germs of decay and death in them. The growth continues all through time (Matthew 24:14).”

          R. C. H. Lenski, Matthew, Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1932, p. 513.

          History has shown the truth of this parable. The Christian Church began in its embryonic stage with the promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15 when Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise and deserved nothing but condemnation for violating God’s clear command. When God became flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, the first believers were a few shepherds and some foreign astronomers. Surely no religious group was smaller, weaker, or less impressive at the birth of Christ. Multitudes flocked to pagan temples with gifts of gold and jewels. Judaism was reaching a highpoint as Jesus grew up, with a splendid temple in Jerusalem, built by Herod.

          Jesus attracted crowds with His loving-kindness, spiritual wisdom, and astonishing miracles, but His impact was numerically small during His public ministry. The Christian Church grew miraculously across the civilized world during the brief lifetimes of the apostles, thanks to the timely construction of the inter-continental Roman road system and the use of ships. Persecution spread rather than hindered the Gospel by scattering the surviving believers in world cities like Jerusalem and Rome into new territories. Tertullian said, literally, “The more you mow us down, the faster we grow.” Historians have modified the statement to: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

          The Roman Empire first executed Christians for their belief, then suffocated the Church with approval, marble temples, and a Roman bureaucracy. The Gospel persisted in Europe and, according to legend, in India, where Thomas preached. The growth of Islam during the Medieval Age threatened to devour Europe and the Church. The Turks were at the gates of Vienna in 1530, when the tide turned. The newly invented printing press sped Luther’s writings across the world on the heels of ferocious persecution.

The modern age, spurred by the freedom of Luther’s Reformation, has added every technological advantage to the spread of the Gospel, from television and radio to the Internet and video tapes. The Gospel shelters many souls, encompassing tribes in Europe that once worshiped trees and natives in Africa who once dined on their enemies.




[1] 1 Kings 13:30 And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother! Isaiah 45:10 Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?

[2] 1 Peter 2:2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: 3 If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

[3] Matthew 22:12 “And he saith unto him, ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.” One hymn expresses the same truth in the positive sense: “When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found, Clothed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne. On Christ the solid rock I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.” Edward Mote, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” The Lutheran Hymnal, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941, #370, verse 4.

[4] Deuteronomy 6:4. Mormon doctrine is not derived from the Bible or the Book of Mormon. Latter Day Saints (Mormons) use the Book of Mormon to begin eroding faith in the Word and the true Christian Church, which they call “The Whore of Babylon.”

[5] In the movie “Oh God,” George Burns is on trial as God. He answers that Jesus is his son, then adds that Moses and Mohammed are also his sons. Therefore, the confession is meaningless and blasphemous, helping us see why we need to ask false teachers follow up questions.

[6] Joel 2:13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

[7] Young was the Old Testament professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. Although not a Lutheran, Young’s explanation of this passage is in perfect harmony with Lutheran doctrine. If only Lutherans today could be so sure of this passage and place their trust in the Word alone. (However, see footnote #11.)

[8] KJV Matthew 13:6 “And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” We take soil moisture for granted in most parts of America. However, in Phoenix, a desert valley, an unwatered yard will not even support weeds. The burning sunlight of summer changes every aspect of life. It is illegal in Phoenix to deny anyone a drink of water.

[9] Psalm 126:4 “Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south .” (Negev) Photos from space show that the Negev desert was once fertile.

 

[10] The Prophecies of Isaiah, p. 359.

[11] Edward J. Young wrote in The Book of Isaiah, III, p. 383n., of Isaiah 55:10 – “There is no reason to assume that the prophet was ignorant of the fact of evaporation.” The patronizing note raises the issue of whether Isaiah is God’s Word or man’s word about God. Even though the explanation of Isaiah 55:10-11 seems to be in harmony with Lutheranism, Young’s rationalistic concept of inspiration is quite different from Luther’s. The issue is not scientific knowledge, but whether we regard the Bible as the Book of the Holy Spirit.

[12] Matthew 4:3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

 

[13] Luke 1:53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. (peinw/ntaj evne,plhsen avgaqw/n kai. ploutou/ntaj evxape,steilen kenou,jĹ) In the New Testament, the Son of God is sent (John 3:17), the apostles are sent (Luke 11:49; the Greek verb for sent is the basis for our word apostle), and the rich are sent away empty. By reversing normal word order, the KJV emphasizes that the rich are “sent empty,” rather than sent away.

[14] The Prophecies of Isaiah, p. 359.

[15] Thus Delitzsch, p. 360.

[16] James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

[17] See 1 Timothy 6:6-10

[18] Interpretation of Mark. 110.

[19] Kretzmann is out of print and Lenski’s commentaries were let go by the ELCA.. My copy of Kretzmann was carefully underlined by a sainted American Lutheran Church pastor who studied under Lenski.

[20] Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

 

[21] Note the Mark Braun article in Forward (nee The Northwestern Lutheran) about the sower and the seed, employing this soil testing concept.

 

[22] Some will argue that Luther tolerated or even encouraged persecution of heretics, but it should be noted that many religious heretics, such as Thomas Muntzer, combined religious fanaticism with sedition. Muntzer urged the peasants to war, promising God’s blessing upon their task.

[23] Similar doubts are expressed in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a novel dependent upon Jonah for its major themes, a foil for the author’s skepticism.

[24] Romans 1 warns us three times (1:24, 26, 28) that God will let us go if we continue to rebel against Him. It is no surprise that the anti-Jonah seminary, Seminex, became the designated school for the training of ministers for the exclusively homosexual denomination called Metropolitan Community Church.

[25] The reaction of the elder brother to the Prodigal Son’s return is similar. Luke 15:25.

[26] Acts 18:24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. 1 Corinthians 1:12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Titus 3:13 Bring Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them.

[27] James 5:7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Deuteronomy 11:14 That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.

 

 

[28] 2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

 

[29] The same concept is taught in Matthew 13:12 - For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

[30] Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

[31] The Christian character of the United States, while severely compromised today, has benefited many cultures through the forgiving nature and generosity of its people. In the past, God blessed this country uniquely through the Word, but now the population has deserted the Word and is suffering from the consequences of apostasy.

[32] A campus minister told me he did not worship on Sunday because he “did church work all week.” He was a former Lutheran.

[33] The work of God and His attributes are commonly expressed in groups of three in the Bible. Groups of five are often associated with judgment. See J. Cascione, In Search of the Biblical Order.