St Luke 8:4-16
'Why Some and Not Others'
Sexagesima, The 2nd Sunday in Pre-Lent | January 27, 2008
As a pastor I get all kinds of questions, and I love it. “Pastor, I was talking to a friend and we were trying to figure out the difference between all the different Lutheran churches.” “Pastor, I was wondering what a good Christians book to give my grandson is.” Or, and I really, really love this question, when I'm sitting in my study and the phone rings and you say, “Pastor, I was just reading through Romans and I don't understand this verse.” That's just great; I smile for the rest of the day. But my favorite question of all is this, after hearing a sermon or Bible Study, the question comes, “Pastor, this is such good news, how can any one not believe it?” I ask myself the same question as I read and study the Gospel, the Scriptures and their crystal clear promise of God's undeserved grace and mercy.
We hear the law, that we are damnable sinners that should be eternal pot roast, and yet Jesus pours Himself into the pot so that we could escape and have eternal life with Him. He promises us the forgiveness of sins and gives us faith to believe it, and that faith He declares to be our righteousness.
(By the way, I noticed an example list night between the difference between active righteousness and declared righteousness. We say the the Gospel gives the gift of declared righteousness to people who are not actively righteous, but who are sinners. Imagine that being righteous is the same as finishing your dinner. There are two ways to do it, the first is by eating all your food. The second is saying, “Dad, am I finished?” “Yes, you're finished.” Even though the food still sits on the plate, it is declared empty, finished, complete. So it is with us, we are sinners who are declared holy and righteous and perfect even though there is still a pile of sin.)
Anyhow, back to the point, to the questions, after hearing this good news we want to know how it is that there are people who don't believe in Jesus; unbelief doesn't make any sense to a believer in Jesus Christ.
Well this question leads into some pretty serious theology. The theologians even have a name for this question, the Crux Theologorum, “the Theologian's Cross”. You know that when a question has a Latin name that it must be serious, and this is. It is the question, “Why are some people saved and not others?” It is called the theologian's cross because it is this question when our reason and human understanding must be crucified and put to death, and God's Word alone be given free course.
We will take up the question today, because it is the question that Jesus is answering in the parable of the sower, our Gospel reading today. As Jesus taught, preached and worked miracles there were people who believed Him, followed Him and loved Him, and there were others who did not believe, spurned and rejected and hated Him, those who would eventually arrest, accuse and crucify Him. Why? Why such a difference? Why some and not others?
Before we get to the Lord's answer I want to consider how or human reason answers the questions. There are two different ways, and our sinful flesh is drawn away from the Scriptures to them. We answer the question “Why some and not others?” by putting the difference in man or in God.
The first wrong answer is that the difference lies in man. If some are saved and others damned it must be because we have a free will. Those who became Christians decided to follow Jesus, they accepted Him and received Him. They must have dome something, right? Wrong. But this is generally the answer given by our Baptist and non-denominational friends. The trouble is that this answer denies original sin, the fallen state of all humanity, and it takes glory from our Lord Jesus because we are adding something to our salvation.
The second wrong answer is that the difference is in God, that God must have chosen some to be saved and others to be damned. This is the teaching of double-predestination, and was taught by John Calvin and absorbed (with differing degrees of comfort) by various Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The trouble with this answer is that it denies the universal grace of God, the clear teaching of the Scriptures that the Lord desires all people to be saved, and that Jesus' death takes away the sin of the world.
Well, where does that leave us? The teaching of the Scriptures is this: salvation is completely God's work, and condemnation is completely the fault of man. In other words, our question “Why some and not others?” ought to be split in two: “Why are some saved?” Answer: God's merciful work in the death of Jesus on the cross. And, “Why are other's damned?” Answer: Man is conceived in sin and can do nothing but hate God and reject His wrath.
You see how this still doesn't satisfy our reason. Our flesh still cries out, “But what about...?” This answer is not enough to take away the cross, but it is the answer that the Scriptures give, and so we rejoice in it. We always make it our aim to read the Scriptures like a seven-year-old child, and have them by faith.
So to the parable of the sower. When we ask the question to Jesus, “How is it that some people love You and follow You, and others hate You and are out to kill You?” This is His answer, “A sower went out to sow his seed...” The sower is Jesus. The seed is His word, the Gospel, the promise of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of forgiveness. You and I are the dirt, the ground.
Some of the seed falls on the path and is trampled and eaten by the birds. This is the hardened heart into which the Word does not penetrate and the devil comes along and snatches away the seed.
Some of the seed falls among the rocks, grows up quickly but then withers and dies. These are those who hear the Gospel and show great joy, but the Word does not take great root, and when persecutions arise they fall away.
Some seed falls among the thorns, and its life is cut short because the weeds and thorns. These are those who hear the Lord's Word, but that the Word is choked out by the riches and pleasures of this life.
So Jesus outlines the reasons why people do not come to eternal life: their hearts are hardened, or they are turn away by persecution, or they are drawn away by the pleasures of this world. And we can see this, can we? Both in the Scriptures and in our own lives. We've all known people, friends or relatives, even children who grew up in the church but then left, those who were baptized and called on the name of the Lord, and then they where tempted away from the Lord and His church by pleasure or by pain, by lust or loss.
The seed was good, and the sower (remember this stunning thing) throws His seed out even where a normal farmer would not put it, on the road and in the rocks and in the weeds. So the fault is in the soil, the dirt. The death of the seed is their own fault.
But then we get to the good soil, these are the Christians, the Lord's dear saints, the church, all those who have faith and trust in Christ. Here this soil is called noble and good, but we know that this goodness is a gift of God's grace. We know from the Scriptures that the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. And so this good ground is ground made good in the receiving of the seed, in the hearing of the Word. His Word purifies and forgives and gives righteousness.
His Word is holy and good and living and it gives life and goodness and holiness to us. His Word does not return void, but accomplishes that for which the Lord sends it. His Word, dear saints, is our highest treasure, for heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever, and with His Word on us (in baptism) and in us (by faith which hears and believes the Gospel), we too will endure forever. His Word brings the astonishingly good news of Jesus dead in our place and raised from our grace. His Word promises the forgiveness of all sins and eternal life. And His Word is powerful, converting the soul, giving faith, saving us. All praise be to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who is rich in mercy and grace and who loves us and gives all for us and for our salvation. Amen.
So, why are some saved and not others? For those who are lost we know that it is the fault of their sin. But we also know that the Lord loves them and desires their salvation, and so we pray for the lost, the wandering and the confused, and pray and look for opportunities to speak the blessing of the Lord's forgiveness to them.
And for us who are saved, who trust in Christ and His death for our life, we, dear saints, rejoice that the Lord Jesus has called us to be His own dear family and flock, for it is not by any merit or work of ours. The Lord has worked this miracle of faith in us, and has left us to rejoice and thank and praise Him, both in this world and in the world to come. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO