By Pastor Glenn Pease
Dr. Victor Heiser, author of the one time best seller An American Doctor's Odyssey, was 16 years old when the tragic Johnstown flood struck in 1889. He was out in the barn getting a horse when he heard a dreadful roar. When he ran to the door he saw his father up at the house frantically motioning for him to get to the top of the barn. In a few seconds he was up on the roof, and in a few more seconds he saw a mass of houses, freight cars, trees and animals strike his house. It collapsed like an eggshell, but the barn was torn from its foundation and began to roll. By scrambling and crawling he was able to keep on top. The barn struck a neighbor's house. He leaped into the air and landed on the house just as it collapsed. Fortunately another house rose up beside him and he was able to cling to it.
He lived this experience over and over many times in his dreams, and he vividly recalled his fingernails digging deep into the shingles. He was sweep into a jam of wreckage and had to constantly dodge the deathblows of trees and beams that came roaring pass. A freight car came crashing into the wreckage and he was thrown like a bullet into open waters. He was swept into another jam of wreckage against a brick building that was still on its foundation. He managed to get to the roof of this solid structure, and with others there he was able to rescue people being sweep by until there were 19 gathered on that still standing building.
It was raining hard, and so they opened the skylight and got down into the attic where they spent a night of terror listening to the roar of the water and the crashing of buildings all around them. Their building held, but most did not. Two thousand and nine were recovered, and many were never found. Those in buildings with deep and solid foundations lived to tell of this fearful flood. Many gathered with the Rev. Beale in the First Presbyterian Church in the heart of the city. The waters filled the basement, but it withstood the flood and everyone there was spared. Life or death depended on the foundation of the building you were in. A solid foundation meant life, and a shallow foundation meant death.
This is so obvious a truth when we consider a physical flood, but men do not always realize that this is equally valid in the spiritual realm. Jesus concluded His most extended sermon on record, the Sermon on the Mount, with an illustration concerning the need for depth. Jesus was vitally concerned about the matter of foundations, and He wanted to impress all with its importance. Whether you are wise of foolish depends on what you do with this issue. If you dig deep to lay your foundation, you are wise. If you are satisfied to be shallow, you are foolish, and what you build will never hold up in the flood, which the storms of life bring at some point. Jesus implies that all will be tested by the flood.
Jesus was a carpenter, and there is no way to know how many homes He built, or help build, before He began His ministry of building the kingdom of God. One thing we can be sure of, however, and that is that none of them fell in the rainy season because of a shallow and shabby foundation. Jesus was a builder of quality in both the secular task of building a home, and in the sacred task of building a life. He expected all who followed Him to do likewise, and to avoid being superficial, but to dig deep.
The interesting thing to observe here is, that which makes the great difference between the wise and the foolish builder is not conspicuous. The two houses may look identical, and, in fact, the one with no foundation may even look superior as far as looks go. The shallow life may be as appealing as the deep one. Appearances are deceiving. It is when the flood comes to test them that the hidden foundation proves its value, and leaves the man who dug deep standing justified.
No life can escape testing, and that is why Jesus was so insistent upon depth. You recall in His parable of the sower how some seed fell on ground where it had little soil. It sprang up quickly, but it had no depth, and so when the sun arose it was scorched and withered away. Depth is not a luxury. It is a necessity for survival. When God plants He knows the value of depth. In Psa. 80:8-9 Israel is compared to a vine which God planted. "You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land." In the New Testament Jesus takes over this image and applied to Himself and the church. He says, "I am the vine and you are the branches." Jesus is the vine with roots of infinite depth. There are adequate resources in Him for the branches to grow into all the world and bare fruit.
Christianity could not have survived without being rooted in Christ, for He alone has the depth to keep the church standing through the floods of persecution. God the Father plants deep; God the Son grows deep, and God the Holy Spirit reveals the depths. Paul says in I Cor. 2:10, "For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God." The subject of depth is one of the most important for a Christian to grasp. The disciples had fished all night and caught nothing, but when they listened to Jesus and launched out into the deep their nets were breaking because of the great catch. Digging deep, growing deep, and fishing deep are common themes in Scripture, and they challenge us to give more attention to the dimensions of depth. I wrote these questions for all to consider:
Is there nothing in your net?
Then you haven't gone out yet
To the depths where fish abundant can be caught.
Will you empty handed be
In the shallows of the sea,
Or will you launch out deeper as you ought?
To help you answer these questions we want to answer another question, which we must understand. The question is, what did Jesus mean by depth? What does digging deep and laying a solid foundation for life mean? In building a house it is easy to understand digging deep, but in building a life there is no literal digging to be done, and so we can easily miss the point of Jesus. Therefore, let us consider the question, what is depth in building a life?
Verse 46 makes it crystal clear that depth is not in mere speech. The Lordship of Christ in our lives is not made real by merely saying Lord, Lord, if we do not then do what He commands. A verbal Christian is not a vital Christian. The Christian who thinks he is growing and sending roots deep because he is increasing his religious vocabulary is deceived. Nothing is more shallow than mere verbal growth. Jesus knew that the greatest temptation His followers would have would be to accept creeds for deeds.
Most Christians take talk far more seriously than Jesus did. We all tend to accept or reject people on the basis of their speech. If they say the right things in the right way they are in, but Jesus says, and all of history proves, we are building on the sand when we do this. Right words are meaningless without right actions. Spurgeon said, "The common temptation, is, instead of really repenting, to talk about repentance; instead of heartily believing, to say, 'I believe,' without believing, instead of truly loving, to talk of love, without loving...."
Christians easily develop the dangerous habit of taking their talk too seriously. They tend to think that if they memorize a Bible passage that the experience of that passage is theirs. They think if they quote Paul, who said, "I am crucified with Christ," that they are, therefore, deeply consecrated and surrendered, when in reality they may be nothing of the kind. Jesus was not warning unbelievers, but He was warning those who loved and followed Him to beware of verbalization without obedience. Do not build on your words, but on your deeds. Satan will lead you, if you allow it, to build a high tower of which you will be proud, but if it is built on words alone it will fall in the flood.
Do not build on the shifting sand of sentiment, but on the solid rock of sound doctrine and reason. Many Christians are moved by emotion to start building, and they begin to build up a Christian life without bothering to dig deep, and they are even proud of the fact that they do not waste time with digging as others do. They feel it is a sign of greater faith to leave the foundation to God. Their attitude is that the Lord will protect. They forget that emotion is the lighting and heating system of the home of life, and it makes the home enjoyable and pleasant when it is built. They allow it to become the basis for building, and the result is they are seldom prepared for the flood. They lose their faith and feel God has forsaken them. They are cared away by the flood of changing times, and they are tossed about by every wind of doctrine. Why? It is because they did not dig deep, but had a superficial faith that could not stand under pressure.
Jesus never built a house on the sand and then said, "I will not have to worry because my Father in heaven will protect it." If you don't dig deep, it makes no difference who you are, your house will not stand. Jesus was warning His followers not to make the same mistake that brought Israel to a fall. They honored God with their lips, but their heart was far from Him, and they did not obey His Word. Depth is in deeds is what Jesus was saying. Depth is not in feelings or speech. The intellect and emotion are important, but they are not the foundation. The will is the foundation of the Christian life. The Christian who does not dig deep and sink his will into the solid rock of obedience, will be a shallow Christian however gloriously he speaks of Christ, and however warmly he feels toward Christ. Some poet wrote-
Not words of winning note,
Not thoughts from life remote,
Not fine religious airs,
Not sweetly languid prayers,
Not love of scent and creeds,
It is not what Jesus said that saves us, but it is what He did at Calvary. The Word did not merely speak, but He became incarnate in flesh, and He lived and died for our benefit. It is what He did that robbed Satan of his victory, and gave us the victory instead. Many others have said great things, but nobody ever did what He did. Deeds make the difference, for depth is in deeds. Jesus makes it clear that the only difference between the man who went deep and the man who was shallow was in their deeds. Both heard His words, but one did them and the other did not. The only distinction among hearers of the Word that really matters is that between those who are hearers only, and those who are hearers plus doers.
Depth is found primarily in what you do. Action is the measure of one's foundation. Any other test of Christian maturity leads to deception. James says in 1:22, "Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." In the day of judgment the Scripture says repeatedly that we will be judged according to our deeds. It will be according to what we have done in the body, and not according to our profession, but according to our practice. "Let you light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." This was the message of Jesus. It is not just your words but your works that are a witness.
The question is not, what do you say to your non-Christian friends and neighbors, but what do you do? There is no argument against good deeds. The issue is not your speaking of the love of God, but of your demonstration of it in action. The Good Samaritan helped a beaten man by taking him to an inn and paying for his care. Jesus could have said that He spoke to him of the love of God also, but He did not. Jesus pictured the value of this man by action only. We are not to assume that words are not important, but only that they are not sufficient alone. Words without deeds are superficial, but deeds with or without words are a deep expression of values.
One of the strangest paradoxes of life is that we tend to call a man who is active in all kinds of projects for people a do-gooder. By this we mean that he has a shallow philosophy for the cure of the world's ills. Then we come to Scripture and discover that it teaches clearly that the only Christians who are really deep and solidly Christ-like are those who are do-gooders. Jesus went about doing good, and Paul in Gal. 6:9-10 says, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing....let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." There is no escaping the fact that depth in doing. A Christian who is not a do-gooder is shallow however much theology he knows. Our problem is not Christian education, for you can hear and know the Word of God, and still build on the sand. Our problem is Christian action. We are not digging deed because we are not doing. The purpose for hearing is that we might be motivated to be doing.
Massilon, the famed French preacher and orator, use to say, "I don't want people leaving my church saying, what a wonderful sermon, what a wonderful preacher. I want them to go out saying, I will do something." That is precisely how Jesus felt, and that is why He ended the Sermon on the Mount with this challenge to be doers and not hearers only, for in doing one is digging deep. Only these will be fruitful and wise, and only these will stand firm in the flood. None of us will escape, and so none of us can afford to avoid examining our lives to determine if we are digging deep. Someone wrote,
God will not ask thy race,
Nor will He ask thy birth.
Alone He will demand of thee,
What hast thou done on earth?
Lowell wrote, "Every man feels instinctively that all the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action." It does not do a great deal of good in your life to read the Bible if you do not obey it. The prayer that Jesus taught is not, thy will be talked about, thy will be sung, thy will be voted on, thy will be praised, thy will be taught, but, thy will be done. Merrill wrote,
Thy will be done on earth,
On bended knee we pray,
Then leave our prayer before the throne
And rise and go our way.
And earth is filled with woe,
And war, and evil, still,
For lack of men whose prayer is, Lo
I come to do thy will.
Thy will be done on earth,
Lord, grant me grace to see
That if thy will is to be done,
It must be done by me.