Built on the Rock – June 18th, 2018 Sermon
Google may be able to answer basic, factual question. And Wikipedia may introduce you to interesting topics. But where do you go when it comes to more complex, useful questions, like whom to marry, where to study, where to work?
A message from Matthew 7:15-29 from our “Here I Stand” sermon series.
During what dates did Sir John A. Macdonald serve as Canada’s first prime minister? What’s the total land area of British Columbia? If you want to know the answers to these questions, you can just “Google it,” right? But here are some harder questions for Google to answer: Which universities should I apply to when I graduate high school? Should I look for another job? Whom should I ask to marry, or should I get married at all? Try Googling these questions and see what you get. Or try doing some “research” on Wikipedia. Now here’s an even bigger question. What is the meaning of life?
With Google you may find answers to simple “factual” questions, but when it comes to more complicated and useful questions, Google won’t help you very much. For example, this week I Googled “is the earth flat,” and the first five results showed me that yes, the earth is flat. And you can look up “Flat Earth” on Wikipedia and find many arguments for and against it. In the words of “Michael Scott” from the TV show “the Office”: Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject, so you know you are getting the best possible information.
Alert! That quote was a joke (satire). The truth is that Wikipedia can be very dangerous for looking up controversial things because anyone can say anything, and Google will give you whatever you’re looking for, or whatever companies have paid Google to have you see. So which sources can we trust, then? How do we know what is true and what isn’t? I haven’t even talked about people sharing their views on Social Media or news organizations.
Today we listen to our Saviour Jesus Christ show us a simple, important truth. The only “rock-solid” source we can depend on in this world is God’s Word, which has never been wrong. Dr. Martin Luther and those who agreed with him summarized this in the phrase: “By Scripture alone” (sola scriptura). Jesus says at the end of his famous Sermon on the Mount:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Watch out. The Bible is full of warnings about false prophets, that is, people who claim to be speaking “the word of the Lord,” but really are not. In our Old Testament lesson we saw an example of this where all these false prophets told king Ahab that he would win a battle against the Arameans, except Micaiah. Instead, Micaiah, a true prophet, spoke the word of the Lord, even when he was pressured and slapped and threatened to lie and say what the king wanted to hear. And to be sure today pastors and teachers of the Bible are under pressure to lie and say what other people want them to say, whether society at large or even in churches.
So how do you know who is speaking God’s Word, then? How do you recognize a false teacher from a true teacher? How do you know I’m not a false teacher? In his usual style we heard Jesus give us a simple way to test people: “by their fruit you will recognize them.”
So we can ask this about any teacher: Are people nourished and built up by what this person teaches? Not a false prophet. Does what they say match what God’s Word says? Not a false prophet.
And Jesus follows this up to remind us that someone’s “fruit” is not a big, showy display of power or ability, because false prophets can also “yield” that kind of fruit. Just think of how many big, popular ministries have come and gone, or how many popular teachers have claimed to do great miracles in Jesus’ name, only to later be found out to be frauds or cheating people. Instead, Jesus says the “only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…will enter the kingdom of heaven, and not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’” And in John (6:40) Jesus says: “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” And Jesus here says that he will say to false prophets: “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” In other words, what counts is knowing Jesus, or rather, being know by Jesus.
And remember, Jesus doesn’t tell us these things to terrorize us or leave us in despair. No. Jesus tells us these things to keep us from suffering and harm, from false teaching which bears bad fruit. Jesus gives us these warnings so that through faith we have eternal life, now and forever, and will be raised up at the last day.
In the days of Dr. Martin Luther the simple Gospel message of salvation through faith found in God’s Word was becoming lost. People were believing in false teaching popes who were greedy for money and power, selling forgiveness for money, keeping people in doubt about their salvation, and acting as corrupt as any bad politician today. And you see, most people didn’t have access to God’s Word, and were only taught traditions of man. This is why Luther and those who followed his reforming movement wanted people to have access to Bibles and have translations made in languages that the common people could understand. This is why when Luther was famously asked to deny the things he was teaching from the Bible, similar to Micaiah in our Old Testament lesson, Luther ended his speech by saying (according to one translation):
Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. God help me. Amen.
This is why, following Luther and ultimately Jesus Christ, we put our faith in God’s Word alone. So the all-important question for us isn’t which sources are we going to trust when it comes to our education, our jobs, our families (though that is important). The all-important question is, are we going to hear Jesus words and act on them, or not? This is how Jesus puts it:
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. The 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. But 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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
When Jesus spoke these words, there stood in Jerusalem a place that people knew as “the house of God,” which in English we usually call the Jerusalem “temple.” And in Jesus’ day a king even more greedy and wicked than Ahab was decorating it and making its structures larger and larger. Even Jesus’ disciples thought that it could withstand any storm or wind.
Well, a little while after Jesus gave this speech, he told his faithful disciple Peter that his confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, was the bedrock upon which his Church will stand, with even the power to overcome hell itself as Jesus died and rose again from the dead. And about a generation after Jesus spoke these words a storm did come. And in the end, God’s Church, built on his Word, did not fall, but grew, and that so-called “house of God” fell to the Romans with a great crash, just as Jesus said it would.
In Micaiah’s day the kings of Israel didn’t want to hear the simple message of repentance. In Jesus’ day Herod and most of the Jewish authorities didn’t accept Jesus as the Saviour. In Luther’s day the Roman pope tried to stop Luther’s message of “Scripture alone” by kicking him out of the Roman church and signing a death warrant to have Luther killed. And brothers and sisters in Christ, people today still don’t want to hear the simple message of Law and Gospel from God’s Word, even people who claim to be Christian.
Where do we stand? Here at Saviour of the Nations you all hear God’s Word read, and explained, and studied. So the question is, are we going to act on it? What sort of house are we building as a church, as families, as individuals? As the Letter of James (1:23-24) describes, are we like people who look at our faces in the mirror, and then go away and immediately forget what we look like, or are we “doers” of God’s Word?
By the grace of God as we daily repent and let God’s Spirit guide us, we can do God’s Word. When we put our faith into practice and continue to produce good fruit, the same way that an athlete trains for a competition, faithfulness will become our habit and way of being. In traditional language this is what “virtue” and “character” is all about, doing what is right again and again so that when we are tested or tried, we don’t even think, we just act and do what is right. And just as the people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, we too will be amazed what God’s Word can build, even though us. Amen.