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With the geo-political upheavals the world is experiencing many fear what the future holds. The uncertainty today is exacerbated by the angry divisions within societies. Vindictiveness has replaced respectful and serious conversation. And we can feel utterly powerless when it comes to talking about our faith.
In Perelandra, the second in CS Lewis’ science-fiction trilogy, Ransom, the main character, feels powerless in confronting an evil force at work on the untainted planet Venus. The crafty subtle evil power reflects the temptations in Genesis 3. Despite being a learned scholar in philology, Ransom constantly finds himself defeated in his arguments. What could he do?
This raises an important question for us, for today people have no knowledge of the Jesus of the Gospels. So subtle and persistent has been the attack on Christianity they are not looking to the Christian faith for answers. It is time to review our approach?.
Come with me to a parable Jesus told – the parable of the sower. It begins in Luke chapter 8, verse 4. When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’ As he said this, he called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’… ‘Now the parable is this,’ Jesus explained: ‘The seed is the word of God.’
Expectations. People travelled from near and far to see Jesus. Expectations were rising. It would have been a great time for him to call people to join him in a march on Jerusalem to set Israel free from Rome. But that was not God’s way.
We need to focus on the key to the parable: “…The seed is the word of God” (verse 11).
Causes and revolutions are staged by various means. Last century Marxists brought in Communism at the end of a gun. This century began, as we were reminded on 9/11, with Islamist extremists trying to de-stabilise and destroy through terrorism. In Jesus’ day zealots tried to revive Jewish independence through guerrilla warfare.
But these are not Jesus’ methods. The picture he paints is of a farmer quietly sowing seed. The Word of God he is saying, has within its DNA the capacity to change people’s lives for good. At first the transformation is hidden but there comes a day when the change is obvious.
Churches today have often lost confidence in the power of God’s Word to change lives. So, many churches focus on the sacraments, and others on social justice. But to make these things the priority is to lose sight of the way God works. God’s Word is the key that unlocks the door into God’s kingdom and therefore to life.
In Second Timothy chapter 3, verses 16 and 17 we read: All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the people of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
As the Word of God, the Scriptures give us exclusive information about salvation. They don’t contain exhaustive truth, but what they give us is sufficient for our rescue and furthermore, for living as God’s people.
In the larger context of Second Timothy, Paul reminds us that we live in a world that prefers to find or invent its own religion. He tells us that our only real hope for life and meaning is to turn to God’s unique self-revelation. Human resources won’t provide deep and satisfying answers. Our sure hope is in dependence on the resources of the living God.
To return to the parable in Luke chapter 8, Jesus warns us that the results of sowing the seed of God’s Word aren’t uniform. Some of the crop grows well, some poorly, some hardly at all. The results are not so much caused by bad sowing but rather because of some failure in the ground. We could call this parable the parable of the four soils.
One group, having heard God’s Word have hardened hearts through the silent, crafty work of the power of evil. A second group receive God’s Word with joy, but in times of testing fall away. They had liked the preacher but there had been no true repentance, no real change in their lives. A third group have also heard God’s Word, but they have not counted the cost of commitment. They were not convicted of their sin and their need to turn to Christ in repentance. They had come as customers to buy, not as disciples to surrender.
But then Jesus speaks of a fourth group. They are true followers of Christ who hold fast to God’s Word with an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance. Perseverance in godly living is the sign of God’s grace at work. A real lesson here is the encouragement we can experience in the ministry of disciple-making and outreach.
Jesus’ references to birds, stones, and thorns could easily demoralise us. But he is saying, ‘Don’t be put off. Be realistic, yes. But the ministry of God’s Word will always have its successes, and what success that will be!’ So, let’s be encouraged. Let’s not forget Jesus’ words: “I will build my church, and nothing will prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
And most of all, remember the key to ministry is letting God’s Word do its work.
A prayer. Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.