2 Timothy 2:19 “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’”
There are three vivid pictures in our text. We are familiar with each one of them. They are not unique special theological terms. In fact they are words that everyone in our town is familiar with but they are taken up by the writers of the Bible to show us something of the love of God and what duties God requires from us. They are all very relevant to our lives and even to our special service today. They are common words, but distinctive words also. The words are ‘foundation,’ ‘seal,’ and ‘inscription.’ We will enter our text via those words.
- THOSE WHO ARE ON GOD’S FOUNDATION STAND FIRM.
An uncle of mine was a minister in a mining village in South Wales, in Aberfan, the scene of a terrible disaster in which 144 people, 120 of them children under 11 years of age, lost their lives in a sliding coal tip in October 1966. In my uncle’s Manse there were cracks in the walls and many of the doors couldn’t be closed fast, and some windows couldn’t be opened. The cause of this, which resulted eventually in the Manse being demolished, was subsidence from the warren of mine workings underneath the village. The foundations of the house were undermined and steadily destroyed, and so there was no hope for the Manse. The Roman Catholic church in Aberystwyth, St. Winifred’s, is no longer usable for the same reason. Its foundations are set on the remnants of the beach, sand and shingle and they have been undermined and the building is unsafe.
The Lord Jesus, at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, told the story of two men erecting houses for themselves. One man had soon put up his house, had finished all the construction, and was sitting on a chair on the porch watching his neighbour whose house was still at ground level, thinking to himself why was he so pathetic? We know that the slow builder was concerned about laying a good foundation. We learn from the story that the houses were on a flood plain and the careful builder wanted his house to survive the effects of ‘global warming’ (!) – maybe! – the mother of all storms, torrents of rain and flooding (though then it seemed most unlikely). So he built his house quite laboriously, going down and down to bedrock, so that it was anchored to a strong foundation. It was months before he had completed the work and could live in the house, and his neighbour looked on with patronizing cynicism. Then Jesus tells us the unthinkable happened. These are his actual words; “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house” (Matt. 7:25). But the house stood firm. Only superficial damage was done to it. But the house of his neighbour, which had gone up so quickly, collapsed and was washed away quite quickly too.
Why did our Lord tell that story? Because he had been preaching the greatest sermon that this world has ever heard, or ever will hear, concerning the life that is pleasing to God of following Jesus Christ. Then he told them that such a life, built on the teaching of God the Son, would survive when it was hit by the greatest storms. Now our Lord never promised his disciples that if they followed him they’d never face any storms. In fact they’d get more storms, different storms. Our Lord makes the dangers spectacularly clear. He warned them of the waves and floods that were going to beat about that house, the waves of persecution, the waves of historical research, the waves of philosophical speculation, the waves of scientific pretension. All those waves would beat and beat constantly on this great foundation, the teaching and claims of Jesus Christ. But he was absolutely confident that every human life that had his teaching as its foundation – any such life – would stand. He was utterly convinced of that, and so we find in him this unshakable confidence in the relevance of his words to human life, that such a life built on such a foundation was invulnerable to every kind of assault, every kind of research, every kind of investigation, all that the media would throw at it, however they attacked his teaching and called it ‘out of date’ and ‘irrelevant,’ every such life built on Christ would not fall into hell. Paul follows his Master in our text. These are his words here before us now, “God’s solid foundation stands firm” (v.19). We can write those five words on a card and have them before us today on our desk, on our fridge, the bedside table.
So we are being asked today to face for ourselves the reality of this foundation, the teaching of Jesus Christ, in comparison to the whole realm of 20th and 21st century literature, with all its boasted claims to be relevant and contemporary and right up to date, there are no words that are remotely comparable to those of the Lord Jesus; words on which you would wish to build your life and eternity. The God who in creation laid the foundation of the earth, and separated the dry lands from the seas, has also laid a moral and spiritual foundation upon which the creatures he made in his image and likeness should build their lives.
Now some of you may know the Greek word for ‘foundation.’ It is the wordthemelios. There is a journal dedicated to studying the Bible, and that is its name – ‘Themelios.’ Now our word ‘foundation’ is used in a double sense, isn’t it? What I have been talking about, the basis on which a building is erected, and then we also use it in the sense of an association, a society, a college, a city which has been founded by someone. On the student quiz programme, University Challenge, we could be told by the compere, that King’s College, Cambridge, for example, is a foundation of Henry VI. His was the initiative and the decision and the funding that founded that college. So we have two uses of foundation in English and it is exactly the same in Greek. So in the city of Ephesus, where Timothy was the pastor, he was laying a foundation and it would underlay anyone in the community who trusted in the Lord Jesus, who he was, the Son of God incarnate, born of the virgin Mary, the holy, harmless and undefiled man who became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the one who rose from the dead and saves all who respond to the invitation, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” The foundation is for people who are exhorted to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; build your life on him and you will be saved, and you will be safe in the storms of life. Believers were exhorted to be baptized and to join the church, the assembly of believers, who are all building on this foundation, and edified by the teaching of Jesus every Lord’s Day. They exhorted one another and they encouraged everyone to go on and on, not to move from this foundation even when hit by storms of persecution. “Don’t leave the foundation!” they said.
For example, they heard that two religious men were coming to town to hold special meetings, Hymenaeus and Philetus (v.17), and some young Christians were keen on going along to hear them. “No, no,” they were told, “you mustn’t touch them with a barge pole!” “No? Why not?” “They have left the foundation. They have moved away from it.” You see what Paul says about those two men? “Hymenaeus and Philetus . . . have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some” (vv.17&18). “They are not teaching what the Lord Jesus taught about the resurrection of the body. They don’t believe in it.” The young Christians were astonished. “You mean to say that there are Christians who don’t believe in the resurrection of the body after Jesus himself rose from the dead?” “Yes. That awful fact is true. You must be careful” And so it was through the fellowship that these new Christians were kept on the one foundation. That is what the church does. We are not to think that everybody in the church has got the right to his own opinion . . . ‘who are we to judge what is truth and error?’ Jesus has laid the foundation for what anyone is to believe. There is no other foundation that anyone can lay. And if you build upon any other skimpy foundation, when the storms come, down you will fall!” I ask you, on what are you building your life and your values and your hopes? None of your friends go to church so you won’t go? You have some vague idea about ‘evolution.’ Are you building your life on vagueness? You see the TV weather forecast; you see the map and the isobars close together and the heavy rain and flooding and winds are up to 90 m.p.h. Do you take notice of that? Yes you do if you are in a flood plane in the eye of the storm. Then take notice of what the Lord Jesus says of the storms that are going to face us, of sickness, loss, heart-ache and death, utterly unavoidable! There is God’s solid foundation, the teaching of Jesus Christ. It is real. It is strong. I am bearing witness to you, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”
- THOSE WHO ARE ON GOD’S FOUNDATION ARE SEALED.
A seal is a special mark that proves the ownership or the genuineness of something. The deeds of our house (which is a hundred years old) have a blob of sealing wax at the bottom of one page, and that hot wax has been indented with a seal. It is a mark that the document is genuine and that the house really does belong to us. A man might stand outside it in Trinity Road and say, “This house belongs to me.” I say to him “Is that so? Do you have the deeds? Do they have your name? Are they signed and sealed?” He has nothing to say and goes away speechless. A king might wear a signet ring, and to confirm a new law of the land he would put his ring into the warm wax at the close of the statute and leave on the document his official royal seal. That was now the law of the land. Again, the seal on a sack of saffron would confirm that the contents were genuine, costly saffron. It was saying, “If the seal is broken then don’t purchase this sack.” The seal could also be the brandmark, or the trademark. The most famous of Greek doctors (a physician who lived just before the apostles) was named Galen, and he commended an eye ointment but he urged his reader to look out for a seal on the little bottle. It was the real thing. Don’t purchase any counterfeit ointments. We think again of the hallmark signs on silver goods and they guarantee a purchaser that this is genuine silver; they also tell him where the product was made, when it was made, who made it. That is also a kind of seal.
So Paul has told Timothy that every single Christian has a foundation and he is living on Jesus Christ the solid rock. That is his foundation, and then Paul goes on to say that every one of these Christians has also been sealed by God as belonging to God. He has put his mark of ownership on each one of them, the youngest of them, the newest of them, the very worst of them. The holy and just God is not ashamed to do this, to say to cursing Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith doesn’t fail.” He says to him that he won’t call him his ‘servant’ but his friend, and he puts his seal on Peter confirming this relationship. What is this seal? I will tell you. The seal is God the Holy Spirit. Not an experience created by the Spirit in our affections – an experience of joy unspeakable and full of glory, though there are such genuine experiences – but the Spirit himself living in us, working quietly and secretly and unstoppably – he is the seal of God and so confirming that we are living on a new foundation.
Let me show you this, very clearly in the New Testament. Paul writes to the entire congregation of Ephesian Christians and he says these words to every one of them as they have trusted in Christ and are standing on God’s solid foundation;
“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephs. 1:13). Let me ask you whether you have believed in Jesus Christ? You say, “By the grace of God I have” then you are standing firm on the Rock and you have been given the Holy Spirit. In other words, God has given you God as God’s confirmation that you are God’s – not for the years of time alone but for eternity. Treasure the Holy Spirit who has sealed you. Treat him with respect and love. If you have the signed and sealed deeds of your house then you don’t keep them bundled up with the paper in which your chips were wrapped, and with last month’s Cambrian News and TV Times. That would be grievous and foolish. What trouble you would be in if you threw out your house deeds! How grievous that would be. You keep them safe and secure. So Paul tells this whole congregation, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephs.4:30).
Think of it! There is King David the bitter-sweet singer of Israel and Judah, the king who took another man’s wife and had her husband killed. But God had put his seal, the Holy Spirit, on that man as belonging to him. “I am the God of David,” he says. The Christian in the Corinthian church who had taken his father’s young wife did that when he was a believer sealed with the Holy Spirit. What mercy! What grace! Or there is Mary Magadalene and her life was dominated by many evil spirits, but God acknowledged her as belonging to him. “Holy Spirit go to her and live in her tortured heart and mind and conscience. Affect every part of her. She shall be mine for ever.” Do you understand the glory of that. If I buy a plastic ballpoint pen I do not expect it to be sealed with red wax and bearing the signature of Mr. Biro and attached to it is an 8 page document in vellum confirming that I am its owner. I only expect that when I own my house, that there should be some serious accompaniment of ownership. But when God becomes our eternal God he puts his seal – God the Holy Spirit – on us all. He doesn’t select the beautiful people to be his people, the clean living moral people with an impeccable past, and the intelligent people, and the people with film-star looks, No, he send his Spirit to live in the greatest of sinners, in utter rotters, in the vomit of this world, in the hearts of the off-scouring and germ-laden former children of their father the Devil. “They shall be mine!” he says. As much indwelt by the Holy Spirit as the purest and most zealous and godly Christian woman who has ever lived. The same living Spirit of God living in every single person who believes in Jesus Christ. It is impossible to be an unsealed Christian, to be loved and acknowledged by God but not sealed by God. Impossible! Then there is a third word in our text and it is the word ‘inscription.’
- THOSE WHO ARE ON GOD’S FOUNDATION ARE INSCRIBED.
We put inscriptions on houses where famous people once lived, blue plaques that give us a brief reference to who these largely forgotten people were, what they did – artists, playwrights, poets, inventors, scientists, politicians, and when they lived in this place. We also put inscriptions on the tombstones of our loved ones. I have chosen to put on my stone three phrases. Above my dust I would like there to be this inscription, “God created me. Sin ruined me. Grace restored me.” But the invisible inscription that every Christian bears is not chosen by us; it is not our favourite verse. God chooses it. This inscription is not a tattoo which describes our achievements. It is God who puts this inscription on every single Christian whom he has placed on a solid foundation, and to whom he has given the seal of the living Holy Spirit. There are in fact two divinely chosen inscriptions which are written on every believer,
i] ‘The Lord knows those who are his.’ Now you realize that is not simply a reference to God’s omniscience that the Lord knows all the little children of the world, red and yellow, black and white all are precious in his sight. That is true of course but it is not the comfort of these words, that God is omniscient that we are to remember. In the Bible very often the idea of knowing is much more affectionate than intellectual. For God to know means God loves. For example, in Amos we read God saying, “You only have I known of all the nations of the world.” But we know that God is aware of the Celts and the Romans and the Greeks and the Babylonians. God is aware of the falling sparrow and he numbers and names the stars in the universe. He is saying in Amos that he loves his own people in a unique way. On the Day of Judgment he will say to some, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Of course he knew all about them. His judgment was based on his knowledge. You remember we read in Genesis that ‘Adam knew his wife Eve.’ That was not an intellectual knowledge, it was an affectionate knowledge; it was a passionate knowledge. It is the message of Hosea and the message of Ephesians 5 that Christ loves the church as a man loves his wife, and so Christ gave himself for his people. So you read back the whole commitment and jealousy of a man for his wife into this inscription. God in love with his people; God going to Calvary and giving his life for his bride. It is a love that is prodigal, and is emotional, and is passionate. God gives his own Son and doesn’t spare him. God deeply in love with his people.
“I want every Christian to know this,” says God above almost everything else, “that I have loved them with an everlasting love, that I loved them before the foundation of the world, that I know everything about them and still I have set my love upon them.” And he inscribes with a diamond pen on the tablets of our hearts in marks of indelible grace these words, “I know and love you for you are mine.” And when we begin to realise the implications of that – the God loves even me – that we respond by wonder, love and praise, “O love that will not let me go.” Then there is the contrasting second inscription.
ii] ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’ Ah! Do you see the New Testament balance? “The Lord knows them that are his” – he loves them and that love is secret and known in our hearts alone. Many will claim that they are the Lord’s but the Judge will call them ‘evil-doers’ in the great day. So now there is a balancing inscription. The perspective changes. Let everyone who says God loves me prove it by a total change of life! Turn from wickedness if God really loves you! We cannot see your heart, but we can see your life, and the life reflects the heart. So we first have grace as the divine inscription, God assuring us that he loves us, and then secondly we have the grace of law as the divine inscription. You must have both. The divine and the human; the unseen and the seen.
This second inscription is saying that if you are a Christian, if you confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and your Savior, if you have been baptized on that understanding then you are under obligation to turn away from wickedness. You ‘must,’ the word is telling us. You could say to me that your conscience is all right on what you are doing and that you always let your conscience be your guide. But conscience alone is no safe guide. Think of the conscience of a member of ISIS, he will behead or burn alive and he will think that he is pleasing his god, or the conscience of a cannibal or a drug-dealer. Jesus Christ was crucified in conscience by the chief priests. If you do not have an enlightened conscience – one that is lit up by the Scriptures – then what seemd good to you is in fact wickedness. Or again you could argue to yourself that your sins are not like other people’s, that they are beautiful, and that no one was harmed by what you did, but if you know that the word of God says, “Thou shalt not . . .” then you turn away from it.
You see how Paul pleads here for a change of life. You have confessed the name of the Lord in baptism. In other words, you are telling people that Jesus Christ is your Lord. He has loved you and given himself for you. He became the Lamb of God for you. Nails were driven through his hands and feet for you. He became a curse and entered into the anathema of God for you. He has bought eternal life for you. He has opened heaven for you. He has obtained the forgiveness of all your sins. All this he has done for you. He has given you a new heart and saving faith, and the grace of perseverance. And what does he ask from you in return? What great price must you pay? He says, “Turn away from wickedness.” That’s all. There should be no other reason to do that other than it is right and sensible to do so. How much more if a dying Saviour has purchased your redemption should you turn from it? Isaac Watts surveys the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory dies and his conclusion is this, that “Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.” The wonderful love of God for him constrains him to turn from wickedness and serve the Lord in newness of life from now on, not a perfect life, but he would live perfectly and he cries to God to help him change.
14th February 2016 GEOFF THOMAS