|24"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matthew 7:24-27)||"Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete." (Luke 6:46-49)|
Illustration from Chris Fabry, Spiritually Correct Bedtime Stories. Today we come to another of the parables of the King from Luke's Gospel. The story of the wise and foolish builders.
1. The Context
of the Parable
Two profound facts about the Lord God Almighty are assumed, if not actually stated, in every single passage in the Bible. Remembering these two facts as we read the Bible, transforms both our understanding of God and our relationship to Him. The first truth is that He is King, high King of Heaven, the absolute monarch of the universe, ordering all its affairs, and working out His will in all that happens within it. That is the first assumption in every verse, that God is Sovereign. The second assumption is that God speaks. Speaking words that express His perfect will in order that it be done.
All our prayers therefore should be prefaced with that assumption, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." For praying like this demonstrates our submission and loyalty to the God who is the King of the Universe and the God who speaks and acts with authority and finality in human affairs.
Our Western world today is radically different to that of the Bible. An absolute ruler, such as all kings were in Jesus time, was a law maker, enacting regulations and laws which directly determined His kingdom rule within which his subjects must live. Secondly the king was also Lord of his subjects, and would make public speeches, in order to establish a personal link to inspire loyalty and co-operation in the things he determined.
One only has to think of the Queens annual speech to the Commonwealth on Christmas Day to appreciate this rather formal means of communication between Sovereign and subjects. Forgetting to listen to the Queens speech, or to stand for the National Anthem may reflect our rather casual view of the monarchy, but the consequences are trivial compared to our neglect of the Word of God. God is King, we, His creatures, are his subjects. He speaks both to determine our environment, and to engage our hearts and minds. Like the Queens speech only more so, God's word is a means not only of government, but also of friendship. Though God is the Sovereign Lord, High King of the Universe, He created us with the intention that we might know Him, and become like Him, in character, thought and action. God's word to us is then both information and invitation. The Sermon on the Mount sets out the revolutionary basis for this relationship between King and subjects. It is the context for this parable. In Matthew's version, the parable begins with the word "therefore". It is because of all that Jesus the king is and all that has taught about His kingdom, about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, forgiveness, love of our enemies, giving, prayer, fasting, priorities, worry, forgiveness, humility, and trust - It is with all that in mind that He concludes with this parable. Because of who I am - the king - this is how you should live in my kingdom. This is the context for the parable.
2. The Content of the Parable
God speaks to us in three essential ways - His commands instructing, His warnings protecting, His promises sustaining life on earth. All three are implicit in this parable.
2.1 His Commands Instruct : They Direct our Path (6:46)
As we have seen, Jesus begins this parable with a question. A question of authority. A question about consistency. Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" As the Lord and King, Jesus knew what was on the hearts of those listening. He asserted his right and authority over their lives. Similarly, God sees into our hearts and minds. He knows our motives, our values, our priorities. He sifts us with the same question.
Matthew's account of the parable ends with the response of the people. "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law." (Matthew 7:28-29). The key word is "authority".
We are to believe and obey Jesus, not only because he tells us to, but also, because His word is true and comes with integrity. God didn't give Moses the Ten Suggestions. In all that God commands, He bids us become like Him. Truth in the Bible means stability, reliability, firmness, trustworthiness.
The quality of a person who is entirely self-consistent, sincere, realistic, undeceived. God is such a person, truth is His nature. If we would be wise - then recognise that God's commands instruct, they must direct our path.
2.2 His Warnings Protect : They Test our Foundations (6:46, 49)
We ignore warning signs on the motorway or the beach at our peril. Swimming where there are fast currents or driving too fast in fog is suicidal. Seeing warning signs, reading them, even discussing them is not enough.
To ignore them is foolishness. As foolish as building a house without foundations. We are all building in the choices we make - in our lives, our families and careers - according to a set of values and priorities we have inherited or chosen for ourselves, consciously or unconsciously. Whether they are wise or foolish will take time to reveal but in the fulness of time they most surely will. Here's an example from the singer Harry Chapin, that has tested my foundations as a father... Foundations are invisible, and people think that what can't be seen is unimportant. It may be tomorrow, it may take a life time but eventually our foundations are revealed, and the judgement is made. The word of God contains many warnings to protect us. To protect us from moral and spiritual self-destruction. This is how Jim Packer puts it in his book Knowing God. (p.128)
"As rational persons, we were made to bear God's moral image - that is our souls were made to run on the practice of worship, law keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self control, and service of God and our fellows. If we abandon these practices, not only do we incur guilt before God; we also progressively destroy our souls. Conscience atrophies, the sense of shame dries up, one's capacity for truthfulness, loyalty, and honesty is eaten away, one's character disintegrates. One not only becomes desperately miserable, one is steadily being dehumanised."
This week a Curate from Cheshire, the Revd David Leaver, got into hot water and the national newspapers for saying something similar when he described his suburban stock broker parish as pagan. A friend of mine once said, he didn't mind hot water that much because it helped keep him clean.
Statistics released by the Bible Society recently would suggest we reserve the term pagan not for the parish but the church. Apparently only 31% of regular churchgoers read the Bible at least once a week, and 43% of regular churchgoers seldom or never read the Bible. I am confident these statistics are untrue of Christ Church... But on the basis of these words of Jesus what conclusion would you draw from these statistics?
That less than one third of people who attend church are wise and two thirds are fools? No, its worse than that, much worse. Jesus didn't say, "whoever reads the Bible at least once a week is like a wise man who build his house upon a rock." Jesus didn't say that did he? What did Jesus say? "Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand." No one likes to be called a fool, but if we who claim to acknowledge the authority of Jesus in our lives then whether through neglect, indifference or rebellion, we ignore His word at our peril. It is utter foolishness to merely hear God's word and fail to obey it.
His commands instruct, they direct our path. His warnings protect, they test our foundations.
2.3 His Promises Sustain : They Nourish our Faith (6:47-48)
If we would be wise, then we must recognise the seriousness of Jesus words. To be wise is to realise God's word is to protect us and to provide for our future. One of the most striking features about houses in Palestine is that most are unfinished. Most have cables sticking out of their flat roofs.
We visited the home of Wisam our guide last week. His parents home is typical - it is unfinished. This summer Wisam and his brother will start work building on top of their parents home. Land is expensive and families care for one another. There is no such thing as an old peoples home in Palestine. Each generation literally builds on top of the other. With that in mind, parents choose their foundations very carefully. Invariably it is solid bedrock.
It has to be to take the weight of several generations. The path to life lies in making God's word the foundation for our marriages, our families, our moral values, our work relationships. To be wise is to prepare for the future.
To prepare for eventualities, for storms, for adversity. To be wise is to care more about integrity than image, more about character than charisma, more about principle than popularity. To be wise is also to acknowledge our foolishness. To be wise is to recognise our need of God's wisdom. James 1:5 offers one of the most incredible promises in the Bible. "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." God never fails those who trust His word and claim his promises. The promises of God recorded in the Scripture are a sure foundation, a God-given basis for life. Samuel Clark put it like this,
"A fixed, constant attention to the promises, and a firm belief in them, would prevent anxiety about the concerns of this life. It would keep the mind quiet and composed in every change... Christians deprive themselves of their most solid comforts by their unbelief and forgetfulness of God's promises..."
His commands instructing, His warnings protecting, His promises sustaining. We have considered the context of the parable & the content of the parable.
3. The Consequences of the Parable
Jesus divides the world into two - the wise and the foolish builders. Both built a house. The house on the sand was probably as costly to build as the house on the rock. The difference? The difference has to do with the foundations. The wise man realises that a solid foundation is more important than what is built above it. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the choice in foundations, since one way leads to security and the other to destruction. What are the foundations upon which you are building your life, your family, your career, your reputation? May I commend to you our bible study groups which form a vital part of our church life, for in them we learn together how to put the word of God into practice. For by listening to and putting into practice the words of Jesus, we are building on solid ground. You may feel you have made a mess of your life. Perhaps you have already experienced storms which have revealed your foundations to be sand.
Then take heart for it is not too late. This week Jonathan Aitken has been in the news. The ex-Chief Secretary to the Treasury and a Cabinet Minister, a millionaire and public figure, he lied to Parliament and then to the Courts over the payment of an inconsequential hotel bill and, when exposed, his reputation, his wealth, his marriage and political career were gone. He has started an 18 month sentence for perjury. It was confirmed this week, however, that he has been offered a place at Wycliffe Hall, in Oxford, where he plans to read theology on his release. What ever his past, Jonathan has recognised that he, like us all, is a man of unlean lips. He has discovered the only solid ground there is, is Jesus Christ.
Watchman Nee tells about a young Christian who came to him in deep distress. "No matter how much I pray, no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to remain faithful to my Lord. I think I am losing my salvation." Nee answered, "Do you see this dog here. He is my dog. He is house trained. He never makes a mess; he is obedient; he is a pure delight to me. Out in the kitchen I have a son, a baby son. He make a mess, he throws his food around, he fouls his clothes, he is a total mess. But who is going to inherit my kingdom? Not my dog. My son is my heir. You are Jesus Christ's heir because it is for you he died." The rock Jesus spoke about is not a rock of rules. Our house must be built upon the giver of life. The only solid ground is Jesus Christ. When we make that ultimate discovery, and build our lives on Him, we become wise, others will be saved, and the Lord will be glorified.
Let us pray.
Father God, help me to build my life on solid ground. May I not only listen to what you say but obey as well. Amen.
Cats in the Cradle: Harry Chapin
A child arrived just the other day.
He came into the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay.
He learnt to walk while there was a way.
And he was talking before I knew it.
And as he grew he said, "I'm gonna be like you, Dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon.
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When are you coming home Dad?"
"Don't know when, but we'll get together then son,
You know we'll have a good time then."
Well, my son turned ten just the other day.
He said "Thanks for the ball Dad, come on lets play.
Can you teach me to throw?"
I said "Not today, I've got a lot to do." He said, "That's OK"
And as he walked away he had a smile that said,
"I'm gonna be like him, you know I'm gonna be like him."
And the cats in the cradle and a silver spoon...
Well, he came home from college just the other day,
so much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head and said with a smile-
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys,
see you later, can I have them please?"
And the cats in the cradle and a silver spoon...
Well, I've long since retired, my son's moved away.
Called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind."
He said "I'd love to Dad if I could find the time.
You see my new jobs a hassle and the kids have the flu..."
But its sure nice talking to you Dad, its sure nice talking to you.
And as he hung up the phone it occurred to me,
My boy was just like me, my boy was just like me.
And the cats in the cradle and a silver spoon...