Do you ever have one of those “ah-ha” moments? It’s one of those times where everything seems to just make sense. In looking at our text for this morning in Isaiah, this is one of those “ah-ha” moments. Listen to the words of Isaiah again: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” It sounds very simple, but is it really?
Take Isaiah for example. Isaiah stands midway between Moses and Christ. His ministry spanned the reign of the Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. In chapter 53, Isaiah revealed the vicarious atonement accomplished by the Messiah: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” In chapter 54 Isaiah assured the Church of God’s careful guidance and bountiful grace. Despite the attacks of Satan and the sinful world, the Church will endure. All believers are to find comfort and strength in the Lord. As Isaiah says, “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” What Isaiah says is much easier said than done.
Jesus tells us in both Matthew and Mark, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” It’s not always easy to proclaim the Word of God. There are Christians around the world that are persecuted for even mentioning the name of Jesus. We have people who are like the types of seed in our Gospel lesson for this morning. First, we have those who are like the seed that fell along the path and was devoured up by the birds. Jesus later explains what He means: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” It’s a shame that we have people who hear the Gospel but through the powers of Satan, a stumbling block is put up so that they cannot hear the saving message that while we are sinners, Christ died for us and has made us clean by His shed blood. Unfortunately, not all who hear will believe.
The second type is the seed that fell on rocky ground, had no soil and was scorched away. Christ tells us, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Unfortunately, this type is seen all too often. People attend a gathering or a conference, read an inspirational book that really gets them fired up for Christ and with direction, they could probably do great things. But their new-found spirituality quickly dims because no one is there to help guide them and give them direction, to answer questions that they have, to share the real Gospel message behind the gathering or conference or inspirational book. No one is there to nurture them in the Christian faith and they lose all interest.
This is all too apparent with pop evangelical Christianity today. Look at some megachurches and the large non-denominational churches. Their goal is to bring people into the building. Once that’s done, you become a number of the many thousands they have on the book. They may offer certain programs at the church but are they truly nurturing your soul? What tends to be important is your involvement in the church, in the small groups and programs that the church has to offer. However, what is often missing is the Gospel itself. What you tend to be left with is nothing more than fluff, things that make you feel good but in the long run, do nothing for nurturing of the faith of the individual.
The third example that Jesus speaks of is that which fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. How Christ describes it is unnerving: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” This is the kind that places the riches of the world above that of the spiritual riches that we have received through our baptism into Christ, the nourishment that we receive when we come to the Lord’s Table, placed above the Word that we hear.
There is a saying that very appropriately describes this kind of seed: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” While that may be true among the rich and wealthy, someone will come along after you’re dead and surpass your riches and wealth. When that happens, you lose. The more appropriate statement to make is this: “He who dies with the most toys still dies!”
What riches can you take with you when you die? Show me someone who has bought their way into heaven. That’s not how it works. Christ has purchased our sinned-filled lives and has cleansed them by His blood. Listen to what St. Peter writes: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” That is our only way into heaven.
Finally, Christ speaks of seed falling on good soil. “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” That is true Christianity. That is the Word accomplishing what it has set out to do. Hear again the words of Isaiah: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
The Gospel is God’s declaration of universal grace and pardon. It offers and conveys the Lord’s grace to men—God’s absolution of our sins and His promise of grace and forgiveness without any strings attached. Christ said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” The Gospel not only has the power to convert people to faith but also to motivate believers to be fruitful Christians. Isaiah tells us that God’s Word is never proclaimed in vain. It is not a waste of time to declare the mercy and grace of God in Christ. The possibility is always there for those who hear it to come to faith and be saved. And when it is rejected through the hardness of the human heart, the Gospel has a purpose to be preached as a testimony against unbelief.
The Word is power. To those who believe in Jesus Christ and the Word, God gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit. The Word never returns empty. It always accomplishes what it was sent out to do, though we may not be able to see it. The Word of God is still the powerful force it has always been. Therefore, let us not lose confidence in its effectiveness, since the Lord stands behind it with the promise “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The world around us declares that there is no good use for the Gospel anymore, that it doesn’t have any power or might. So many suggest that we get rid of it. Sometimes in our weakness we might think it isn’t accomplishing anything. However, let us have confidence that God is behind His Word and will use it according to His will. Let us keep on proclaiming the Gospel, the power of God to do all things. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.