Between a Rock and the Shifting Sands
The title our message is . . . . I am in the midst of writing sermons on the parables of Jesus. This is the sixth one I have prepared, the other five being on the Pharisee and the publican going to the temple to pray, the Prodigal Son, the parable of the sower, the Good Samaritan, and the parable of the unforgiving servant. The nature of parables is such that often you get some pretty fanciful interpretations out of them, and so I have chosen the ones that I believe God wanted me to preach based on those parables that are pretty straightforward, those that lend themselves to fairly easy handling.
That is not to say that there is not great depth to these parables I have preached on, you could preach several sermons on The Good Samaritan alone. And this parable of two foundations is one that is rich in its depth, but is readily accessible to all of us.
All of us, of course, can understand the great power and force of water. Especially water rushing through narrow canyons during a flood. We’re all familiar with the tragedy that torrential rains and rising water can cause. One such tragedy occurred back in the mid-1970's in the Big Thompson Canyon flood in Colorado. A typically dry gulch, in which many people camped, was swollen with days of heavy rains until a flash flood swept campers, tents, and gear to their deaths and destruction. Dozens were killed. It was a very unusual accident, much more freakish than the flooding of homes of people who build on the flood plain of a large river. This was an area that for almost every day out of the year, and at times for years on end, was perfectly safe. But then came unusual weather, a flash flood, and mass destruction.
And in Israel, there is a place that is similar to that canyon in Colorado in that it almost never rains there. In 1986 Israel had had one of its driest years on record, and all of its famous bodies of water were remarkably low. There was just a mere trickle of a stream at the bottom of the steep canyon that forms the Wadi Kelt, and in places one could jump across it. But in 1992 the previous winter rains had been considerably better than average, and the place where back in 1986 one could leap across the without getting wet was now a raging torrent. But on one side of steep canyon walls was a 1500 hundred year old Greek Orthodox monastery actually built into the very rock itself. And for 1500 years this structure remained unaffected by drought or by flood. The foundation of the campers in Colorado was not good, right? This church in Israel, of course, was built on a solid foundation, though.
Now obviously, what we will want to do in this study is determine what Jesus is talking about in this parable. And some of it will be self-evident. But to have a true understanding of what Jesus is saying here I believe we will have to back up and see the context in which the parable was taught. One such context is one of false and true teachers, another is about false professions of faith. But the primary context of this parable is that it comes at the very end of the great Sermon on the Mount. This parable then is the climax of all the wonderful teaching of that wonderful Sermon by our Lord.
I. A Rock of Wisdom, Sand of Foolishness (Mat. 7:24-27)
(1 To truly get the feel for this simple, yet profound parable, we could go back to chapter five and read the entire Sermon on the Mount, I suppose. I don’t think that will be necessary; most of us are fairly familiar with its contents. But I do think it might be helpful if we go back and read selected passages from this seminal sermon on the kingdom of God. First, the Beatitudes, Mat. 5:3-12. As we go forward from this beginning we find Jesus warning us about the difficulty in actually living this type of life, of finding our way. Mat. 7:13-14. We can all see from the Beatitudes how incredibly difficult it is to live out such a life, right? And then next Jesus goes on to warn us about the perils of false teaching. Mat. 7:15-20. Jesus is saying here that the Christian life is in no way lived divorced from a radical change of direction in that life. Too often, we preach the absolutely true and glorious doctrine of the free grace of God, yet neglect to teach the equally true doctrine that salvation changes lives. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. Jesus says here that teachers who do not teach the full counsel of God are like ravening wolves, preying on the unsuspecting, and leading many astray to their own damnation. Because next, Jesus warns us against false professions of faith. Mat. 7:21-23. And all of these verses bring us up to this parable of the two foundations. What is the foundation we are building our lives on? That is what we want to talk about today. Look back to 7:24-27.
(2 We aren’t going to have a long discussion on the Beatitudes, but I think that maybe we need to look at the values here as the values that must be present when the Kingdom of God arrives in its fullness. These kingdom values which set forth the perfect standard of righteousness demanded by the law, will be the governing virtues in eternity. But here’s the deal: God expects us to obey them right now. He expects His children to exhibit these characteristics in this life as well as the next. We don’t, though, do we? Because we are saved by grace and not by works of any kind, even these wonderful good works Jesus enumerated there in the Sermon on the Mount, we wrongly assume that they are just there in Scripture to tell us how wonderful things will be in heaven.
(3 And partly that is true, isn’t it? Because that is the way life will be like in the Kingdom of Heaven, right? But these are virtues that, try as we might, we can never fully attain, and must drive us to the cross, right? And these are also virtues that should be the driving motivation of our lives in the here and now, too. Simply because we are saved by grace through faith does not exempt us from behaving in a Christlike manner, does it? There are consequences for all behavior, whether you have had your sins forgiven or whether you have not yet come to Christ in repentance. And some of these consequences can cause us needless pain in our personal lives. Pain that could have been avoided if we had only ordered our lives more closely around Christian virtues.
(4 You know, there is a fascinating passage over in in 2 Peter that illustrates for us what can happen to folks who refuse to build their lives on the right foundation. Turn with me to 2 Peter 2:3-9. It can often be a dangerous thing to take a passage of Scripture and just lightly skim the surface of it, but this passage in 2 Peter is so powerful in revealing to us what can happen to believers as they live out their lives ignoring the clear teaching for godly living. And it’s not that we are so much living our lives like pagans, but that we are not living our lives according to the great Christian virtues imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. Look at your Bibles, 2 Peter 1:3-9.
(5 Some boys, and some girls as well, are given by God amazing athletic abibilties, aren’t they? They can throw, and run, and catch, and jump, and swim, and hit with a skill that the rest of us can never approach. But even if God has given them all the talent in the world for playing, if they do not take that talent and work hard and practice, dedicating that talent to the singular goal of excellence, they will fall short of the promise of their talent, right? Christians have been given the honoring of actually partaking of the divine nature, haven’t we? We have the power of the living God within us to do what? Be kings, lording it over everyone around us with our God-given power? To just kind of laze around, twiddling our thumbs, doing nothing for the Lord. Of course not! We have the power to live our lives on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ, and from that foundation add to our faith the very characteristics of our Savior Himself.
(6 And then Peter tells us that if all these virtues abound in us we will grow in our knowledge of Christ, and if we grow in our knowledge of Him, we will inevitably grow in our ability to live like Jesus did, too. And have great fruit in our lives! But if not? Look at verse nine again.
(7 We don’t practice these virtues in order to be saved, but, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we pursue them so that our knowledge of Jesus Christ will increase, and if our knowledge of the Lord increases, we will have certainty about our salvation. And if we are certain of the power of Christ within us, God will bless us with fruit. But if we are struggling with the reality of our salvation we won’t be of much use to the Kingdom, will we? Our foundation might be sure if it is built upon Christ, but we have allowed shifting sands to enter in. Go back to Matthew with me and look at let’s look at our parable again.
(8 You see, here is the deal. As believers–no really, as people who have at some point in the past made professions of faith–we must make sure our salvation. If there has never been a time in your life, from when you walked an aisle, recited a prayer, and went under the water–never been a time when you valued, not just grace and mercy and forgiveness, but actually valued the Christian way of life, then may I submit two things to you: You are either in desperate need of rededicating your life so that you might be of some use to the Lord., or secondly, the truth is, more than likely, if you have never valued the virtues found in the Sermon on the Mount, or the passage we just read in 2 Peter, you’re probably unsaved, and tragically on your way to Christless eternity in a devil’s hell.
(9 We need to ask ourselves some hard questions from time to time, don’t we? My great fear in my own Christian walk is that I become too familiar with it. That my walk becomes something like an old pair of house shoes, something I am so comfortable and familiar with that the life I am supposed to be living for the Lord, along with those comfortable shoes, becomes unnoticed, taken for granted.
(10 We must, all Christians must, come to the Word of God, the Gospels, all of Scripture, with a fresh eye, willing to look deeply into our own hearts and examine our lives, whether we even be in the faith, and whether, if we are, we are living the faith instead of just going through the motions. Because listen to me, nowhere in this Bible is it ever stated by God that because we are saved by grace through faith, we can live our lives any way we choose. That because God is merciful and ever ready to forgive we can go out and sin with abandon. James wrote this: James 2:17-18 (KJV)
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alonec. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith withoutd thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. The great apostle of grace, Paul wrote these words: Romans 5:20-21 (KJV)
20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:1-2 (KJV)
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? And Jesus said it simply but powerfully in, John 14:15 (KJV)
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
(11 In our zeal over the years to preach the Gospel, we have sometimes neglected to preach holiness. We rightly preach that salvation is a free gift apart from any work of ours, but, people, James writes that a faith totally devoid of good works and holiness is not real; it is dead as a doornail. And far too often in our modern churches we preach grace and mercy while conveniently omitting the reason why we need that grace and mercy. We sin, right? We disobey God.
(12 I fear that far too many of us have a false sense of security about our salvation. And it is never my intent to make a genuine Christian doubt their salvation, but we have managed to somehow divorce the entire redemptive process from godly living. I mean, from where I’m standing, the church in America right now is not that much different from the world. We go to the same movies, watch the same television shows, tell the same jokes, do much of the same things that unbelievers do. That is not what the Bible teaches, is it? 2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
(13 On Sept. 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, journalist Clarke Beach wrote this: A Japanese attack on Hawaii is regarded as the most unlikely thing in the world, with one chance in a million of being successful. Besides having more powerful defenses than any other post under the American Flag, it is protected by distance. Mr. Beach was dead wrong about the Japanese intentions on that fateful day in December, wasn’t he? Don’t you be dead wrong about that fateful day of judgement that is coming one day. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security based on an event in your past when your life ever sense that time has nowhere resembled Christlikeness.
(14 You see, if your life is built on a solid, rocklike foundation and not on shifting sands, you what? There is no storm of life that will assail you that you can’t weather, is there? Even death, when it comes knocking at your door, won’t shake you. But if your life is built upon nothing but shifting sands, death is the final frontier, isn’t it? The great terror! Before his death in 1981, American writer William Saroyan telephoned in to the Associated Press this final, very Saroyan-like observation: "Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?" Neil Simon, who wrote The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park, was asked on the Dick Cavett Show whether making a lot of money concerned him. The studio went dead silent when Simon answered, "No...what does concern me is the fear of dying."
(15 Contrast this fear of the unknown with the certainty of eternal rewards that one who has trusted in Christ has; that one who has built the edifice of their life on the sure foundation and not on the sand. Consider these last words from Christians in the past as they were at death’s door: "Our God is the God from whom cometh salvation: God is the Lord by whom we escape death." Martin Luther
"Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death." John Knox
"Thou, Lord, bruisest me; but I am abundantly satisfied, since it is from Thy hand." John Calvin
"The best of all is, God is with us. Farewell! Farewell!" John Wesley
"I shall be satisfied with Thy likeness--satisfied, satisfied!" Charles Wesley
(16 I’ve said in past sermons or Sunday School lessons that only Christianity has the answer to life’s most pressing problem. Everyone of us in this room, if the Lord tarries, are going to die. The final storm of life all of us will face will the the grim reaper of death. But people, Christ has already defeated death, hasn’t He? When Jesus walked out that tomb on the third day, after paying the price demanded by a holy God for our sin, death and sin were vanquished.
(17 And so let’s back up a few verses to the passage that directly precedes this parable. Jesus strategically placed this warning about false professions of faith right after the warning about false teachers and at conclusion of The Sermon on the Mount. Look at 7:21-23 again.
(18 How can you know you’re saved? It’s not about feeling saved, is it? Jesus is saying here that there will be a great host of people coming to Him feeling like they belonged to Him, feeling like they were on the right side of salvation. Salvation is an objective occurrence in a person’s life. And we need to make sure there are objective things we can look to in our lives that will indicate we actually belong to the Lord. We need to never trust our feelings when all the evidence points to our deceiving ourselves. Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)
9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Our hearts of darkness can easily deceive us, can’t they?
(19 What are some of those things we can look to in our lives? There are three marks of the Christian that John tells us of in 1 John. First, is truth. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is who the Bible says he is? 1 John 2:22-23 (KJV)
22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. 1 John 4:2-3 (KJV)
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. So, the first mark of the Christian is that the Holy Spirit will witness to our spirit that Jesus of Nazareth is the Word made flesh, God in the flesh. The second mark of believers is obedience. 1 John 2:3-4 (KJV)
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. Now, we know from a previous verse in this epistle written by the Apostle John that he isn’t talking about perfection, otherwise he wouldn’t have written this verse: 1 John 1:9 (KJV)
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. John is talking about a pattern of living here, isn’t he? Not perfection. Is the desire of your heart to honor the Lord with your life? Can you honestly say, along with Paul, 2 Timothy 4:7 (KJV)
7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: The last mark of the true Christian says it all: love! 1 John 4:20 (KJV)
20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? Truth, obedience, and love!
(20 What are you building the foundation of your life on? Are you building on the Rock of Jesus Christ, or are you building on the shifting sands of the world? Please don’t misunderstand me: this message is not about working for your salvation. There is nothing about any of us that merits God’s mercy and grace. But please don’t misunderstand this either: if you are going about your life doing what you want when you want with no care for the holiness of God, or for walking in obedience to Him, and you are looking back on a time when you walked an aisle, said a prayer, and got baptized thinking you are now good to go–you got that settled and now you go on and live your life? I got some bad news for you! You ain’t going to heaven!
(21 Does that mean you won’t ever mess up big time? Nope! You might just do it! What it does mean, though, is that you will probably not look at this act of rebellion with the attitude of, “Hey, I’m saved! I can get away with it! It doesn’t matter”
(22 Mommy I'm so thirsty. I want a drink.
Susanna Petroysan heard her daughter's pleas, but there was nothing she could do. She and four-year-old Gayaney were trapped beneath tons of collapsed concrete and steel. Beside them in the darkness lay the body of Susanna's sister-in-law, Karine, one of the fifty-five thousand victims of the worst earthquake in the history of Armenia.
Calamity never knocks before it enters, and this time, it had torn down the door.
Susanna had gone to Karine's house to try on a dress. It was December 7,1988, at 11:30 A.M. The 6.9 magnitude quake hit at 11:41. She had just removed the dress and was clad in stockings and a slip when the fifth-floor apartment began to shake. Susanna grabbed her daughter but had taken only a few steps before the floor opened up and they tumbled in. Susanna, Gayaney, and Karine fell into the basement with the nine-story apartment house crumbling around them.
"Mommy, I need a drink. Please give me something."
There was nothing for Susanna to give.
She was trapped flat on her back. A concrete panel eighteen inches above her head and a crumpled water pipe above her shoulders kept her from standing. Feeling around in the darkness, she found a twenty-four-ounce jar of blackberry jam that had fallen into the basement. She gave the entire jar to her daughter to eat. It was gone by the second day.
"Mommy," the little girl cried, "I"m so thirsty."
Susanna knew she would die, but she wanted her daughter to live. She found a dress, perhaps the one she had come to try on, and made a bed for Gayaney. Though it was bitter cold, she took off her stockings and wrapped them around the child to keep her warm.
The two were trapped for eight days.
Because of the darkness, Susanna lost track of time. Because of the cold, she lost the feeling in her fingers and toes. Because of her inability to move, she lost hope. "I was just waiting for death," she said later.
She began to hallucinate. Her thoughts wandered. A merciful sleep occasionally freed her from the horror of her entombment, but the sleep would be brief. Something always awakened her: the cold, the hunger, or most often the voice of her daughter.
"Mommy, I'm thirsty."
At some point in that eternal night, Susanna had an idea. She remembered a television program about an explorer in the Arctic who was dying of thirst. His comrade slashed open his hand and gave his friend his blood.
Her groping fingers, numb from the cold, found a piece of shattered glass. She sliced open her left index finger and gave it to her daughter to suck.
The drops of blood weren't enough. "Please Mommy, some more. Cut another finger." Susanna has no idea how many times she cut herself. She only knows that if she hadn't, Gayaney would have died. Her blood was her daughter's only hope.
Beneath the rubble of a fallen world, Jesus pierced His hands. In the wreckage of a collapsed humanity, He ripped open His side. His children were trapped, so He gave His blood.
It was all He had, His friends were gone. They had vamanosed! They had hightailed it out town; they had gone fishing. His strength was waning. His possessions had been gambled away at His feet. Even His Father had turned His head. His blood was all He had. But His blood was all it took.
(23 We have to be very careful that we aren’t building our house on our own goodness, our good works. It will collapse on us one day like the apartment building collapsed in that earthquake. The house of our life must be built upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ and His precious blood shed in death. Anything less will never hold up when it is time to stand before the righteous judge. But listen, because Jesus rose from the grave on the third day, and ascended back to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, sending the Holy Spirit to indwell each and everyone of us who call upon Christ’s name; people we now have the power within us to live godly lives, to live in a manner that pleases our heavenly Father! And people, anything less than that will never hold up when it is time to stand before the righteous judge either.
(24 How you live your life matters! It has eternal consequences. But if you are banking on an eternity based on your good works, you’re in trouble. Because God demands perfection, doesn’t He? And we are all a far cry from perfection! Romans 3:10 (KJV)
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Romans 3:23 (KJV)
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
(25 That is why Jesus made the claim in John 14:6 of His being the only way to heaven. John 14:6 (KJV)
6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
(26 Do you know Jesus? I mean, do you really know Him? Are involved in an intimate relationship with the living God through the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit? These are matters that we can’t just look on and say, “Well, I think I took care of that. But my life sure don’t look like it.” How about yours? Is it time for a real change? Are you tired of living a life on shifting sands that just won’t support you? Come to the Rock!
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