Lk. 6:47-49 “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 the 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.”
When we were children we sang a song about these two men; it is still sung today. “The wise man built his house upon a rock . . . The foolish man built his house upon the sand.” The song ended with a great shout as the winds came down, and the floods went up and the foolish man’s house collapsed – BANG! It is all rather jolly, but to see people standing outside their homes that have been destroyed by a flood, in tears at the loss of everything, wives clinging to their husbands, children standing mutely in a state of shock then you realise what a disaster it is to lose your home like that.
WHERE EXACTLY LAY THE FOLLY OF THE FOOLISH MAN?
i] His folly was not in his desire to build a house. If you told a homeless person that you envied him not having all the responsibilities of looking after a house he would probably stare back at you and tell you that what he wanted most of all would be a place where he could live, a roof over his head, a place of safety, of warmth in the winter, away from the scuttling rats, a shelter in the rain, somewhere that was his, a place he could call his own home. It would be somewhere he could live with his spouse, where his children could be nurtured and loved. Most homeless people want their own place. It was no folly to desire a house.
ii] His folly was not in devoting his health and strength to erecting a house. He had to look after himself each day, earn enough money to stay alive, purchase food and fuel, and also buy the building materials he needed. The weariness, working at one job in order to keep alive, earn a wage from the work he did there and then to use his evenings and Saturdays and holidays to be erecting a house – none of that effort was folly. It was wearying and costly work, but few would judge that having health and strength he shouldn’t be devoting his powers to building a dwelling place for himself. That was not folly – though it seemed for that period he was burning a candle at both ends.
iii] His folly was not in learning new skills imperfectly as an architect, a brick-layer, a carpenter, a plasterer, a glazier, a roofer, a plumber and an electrician. He learned to handle late deliveries, inclement weather, workmen who let him down, inability to make progress because of cash-flow problems, neighbours who expressed irritation at aspects of the building work, health and safety inspectors, demands from the local council that the building comply with statutory requirements. He learned clumsily about measuring tape and red tape but all of that was not his folly.
iv] His folly was not in his choice of materials for the walls, windows, floors and roof. The proportions of the building were admirable. The stonework of the cladding and the fine slates on the roof brought approving comments from people passing by. His choice of a front door was considered dignified but welcoming. His colour scheme was judged a great success. The fitted kitchen and large bathroom was right out of the latest designer catalogue and his wife was thrilled. The solar panels, triple glazing and the insulated cavity walls and ceiling made the house eco-friendly and economic to run. The decking was an additional feature of the garden so that it was envied by many. He spared the house nothing that he could afford, the best materials were wisely used. There was no folly in his taste.
Then where was this man a fool? It was very simple; Jesus said that he was, “a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation” (v.49). All this effort, this scraping every penny together, this learning of new skills, this admirable choice of materials and planning was all to erect a house on the soil. He’d laid no foundation. Think of it! All that effort, the back-breaking toil, the weary year, the expenditure, the fine walls, front door, double-glazing and the best Welsh slate roof all set on a building which lacked a foundation. What fooolishness! Mammoth folly! When blocks of flats were built in the bowl of our town then piles were driven through the sandy marshland on which most of that area of the town stands right down to the bedrock. During those weeks everywhere you walked in town you heard the thud, thud, thud of the pile driver. Again, when a single house is put up then a raft of concrete is constructed and allowed to harden before any building goes up. In proportion to the size and height of the building there must be a suitable thickness and durability in the foundation.
Yet this man whom Jesus spoke of had laid no foundation whatsoever. “No!” you cry. “Even for a glasshouse in the garden you lay some kind of foundation,” but here we are introduced to “a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation” (v.49). It is hard to believe, considering how smart he was in every other aspect of his work, that here he could be so stupid, refusing to lay a foundation though able to build a house. Clever, thoughtful and accomplished in so many other areas of his life he made one mammoth mistake in this crucial action, and that is why he was a foolish man. Then you look at the world around you and you see this syndrome everywhere. We call it mono-mania. People in nine tenths of their lives are sensible. They are shrewd in their vocations, smart in their businesses, wise in handling new challenges, and prudent with their money, but when it comes to their relationship with God they are utterly foolish. They will never consider the life of Jesus Christ; they dismiss it without any consideration. “It’s religion,” they say. “I don’t do God,” they say smiling – to put you off. They will never read any of the four accounts of his life, of his miraculous birth, his teaching especially the Sermon on the Mount, his claims and the signs he performed to ratify his claims, and his resurrection from the dead.
Men and women study Chaucer’s English, and Mandarin, and plant breeding, and genetics, and I.T. but they will never spend five minutes facing up to the issues which life itself raises. Who made you? What else did God make? Why did God make all things? What is man’s chief end? How can I know God? What is the good life? Am I going to die? What is death? What lies beyond it? How can I gain eternal life? They simply turn their backs completely on those questions having told themselves that no one had the answers, as though Jesus’ opinions were as much a wild guess as their own thoughts, and so unworthy of consideration. They have no other foundation on which to stand facing death and the judgment beyond than their own hunches. Yes, they’ve made plans for the last years of their lives. They have organised their pensions, and invested their savings as wisely as they could. They have carefully prepared a will. They have checked into nursing homes for the partner that is left if he or she is no longer able to take care of himself or herself. They have worked out the cost and down-sized their homes. But what of death itself, and the vast eternity beyond? On what foundation are they standing as they look at the last things, especially meeting with God?
WHO WAS THIS FOOLISH MAN?
Our Lord is not giving us lessons in building houses but in building our lives. He has been addressing an audience of people whose lives had been touched by his words, but there were different groupings in his audience. They were all showing a real measure of enthusiasm for Jesus of Nazareth, especially during those early months of his ministry. On this day they weren’t at their businesses working and toiling to put bread on their tables for their families. They had abandoned all that for the time being to sit down and listen to a preacher from the country. In fact many of them would for the rest of their days go on following Jesus through thick and thin, enduring to the end. However, there were others who were very different; they would quickly leave their first love; soon they would be neither hot nor cold about Christ, but luke-warm. So we have two groups of people listening to our Lord, just as there is a similar division here reading these words today, some are temporarily affected by religion but starting to go off, and then there are those whose whole life is Jesus Christ, serving and pleasing him.
The point is this, that as you looked at them that day they all appeared to be the same; the true children of God had no haloes marking them out; they had no glow in their faces. They all said, “Lord! Lord!” and they were all building their lives. They were like a row of identical new houses, like the photographs in a builder’s advertising brochures of the “Luxury Homes Meadowbrook Estate” or whatever it may be called. How would the untrained eye possibly spot the difference, seeing tell-tale warnings in one house? Who would be wise enough to warn any house purchaser, “Caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware! That house has no foundation?” Superficially the houses built by the wise men and the houses built by the foolish men appeared to be identical. “So don’t judge!” the world says. You’d exercise judgment if you were buying a house wouldn’t you? If the health of your family or your own health were at stake by some action wouldn’t you judge first? If all your future hung on something wouldn’t you judge before making your decision?
When a man today has settled on the purchase of a house one of the final steps he takes is to hire a building inspector who knows what to look for, what the meaning of different cracks might be, if there is evidence of subsidence, or the absence of a damp course, or whether the house will need rewiring. He judges. Are there warning signs he will be shown to make him think twice about buying this house? To the ordinary purchaser they are all identical houses, except the front doors are painted different colours. The significant difference, which only the trained eye can see, lies in the parts we wouldn’t normally think of, right? The flaw that ends any thoughts of purchase is not in the roof, it’s not the decking, it’s not the walls, the wiring, the plumbing, the windows or in the doors. They are all fine. The problem lies in what is hidden away under the house, not in the things that are seen but in the things that are not seen.
Jesus is addressing this crowd following him around, all enthusiastically referring to him as “Lord.” They have all been exposed to his teaching. They have attended his meetings, they are enjoying his preaching and his miracles. They have a new interest in the Bible; they like sitting and listening to Christians talking together. They express the confident hope to anyone who asks them, “What’s this all about?” that the future of the world lies with Jesus. On the surface every disciple seems as genuine as every other disciple. This house without a foundation was not by itself despised by others and set apart in a corner with a sign saying, “There is no foundation under this house.” This foolish man built his house right alongside the house of the wise builder. One with no foundation at all was right next door to one with a complete foundation. How do we know that they built in the same place? Because the same torrent hit both houses. They were in the same area; both were soon subject to the same tremendous testing. True believers and false believers, side by side, looking indistinguishable, meeting one great trial. If you glanced at these houses from your car, and guessed the price of each of them then there’d be nothing to separate the cost of either building. Both these houses in Jesus’ story were consistent with Christian development; they looked like all the other houses in the vicinity. The only difference lay in what lay beneath each house. Rock was under one but the mere ground was under the other.
There was no question as to whether these two builders had had real contact with Jesus Christ or not. They both had. The issue was not whether they’d heard Jesus’ words of truth and life; they both had. It was not whether the Lord has had some impact on their lives; he had. No one questioned those realities. The question was what foundational changes had taken place in their lives. What were they building on? What is a firm foundation? What do religious people build on? Meetings? Rituals? Fixed times of prayer? Months of fasting? None, I say, is a mark of a lasting foundation. When you stand before the throne of God will you say to him, “I went to meetings, and I did rituals, and I said prayers three times a day, and I endured a month of fasting each year, and because of all of this let me into heaven”? The door will stay closed because sin is mixed with all that we do.
There are other religious folk but they are still building on ego, but now it’s religious ego, whereas once it was secular ego, but that’s no foundation to stand on in God’s presence; the old enthusiast is still an enthusiast, but now he is enthusing about Jesus. The old loud mouth is a loud mouth still, but now his loud mouth is full of those wonderful crowds listening to Jesus. The old show-off is still showing off but now it’s his special relationship with Jesus. The man who loves music still loves music, but now he performs before the religious set. The foundations of the foolish man are still what they always were, a projection of themselves.
You hear it often enough in humble testimonies from people who have been delivered from that stage to one of living faith in Christ. They will humbly confess, “I went along to church; I sang the songs, and I went to the youth meetings and camps and conferences in the summer. I lived like a Christian on the outside, but I was not a Christian on the inside. I had been raised in the church. I was present in the church services. I said the right things that everyone else was saying. I acted in the way that was expected by my peer group, but I wasn’t living for the Lord. My chief end in life was not to glorify and enjoy God, until a number of things happened. A new seriousness came into my life and I really repented and confessed my sin and I cast myself wholly on Jesus Christ for evermore. Now day by day I am living for him.” That’s sort of testimony is not an unusual event; that’s very common, people making the wonderful discovery that they’ve not been building on the one real foundation for heaven. Don’t you want to make that discovery if that is true for you too?
What characterizes building from the ground up? I tell you it’s the easiest and fastest way to put up a building. There’s nothing before the bricklayers move in; no one goes down and down until the bed rock is hit. There is no digging, and no preparation of the site. You don’t have to call the firm that sells liquid cement and arrange a day for the big orange truck to drive up with its turning cone of cement and its long tubes pumping the cement into the trenches you have dug. You don’t have to delay while the cement hardens. You don’t receive a big bill from its manufacturer. Without bothering with a foundation you can start putting the walls up straight away. “On the ground without a foundation” (v.49) means it’s much easier, building on the ground, and what visible results you get – from day one. The fool is a man in a hurry; he is looking for the short cut, the quick fix. Foolish men always want things yesterday!
In many ways in every branch of the professing church today people are encouraged to do everything quickly and easily. They are building “on the ground without a foundation” and it is the foolish people who are the most enthusiastic. You can become a Christian by repeating a formula, a so-called ‘sinner’s prayer.’ “It’s as easy as A.B.C.” they are told. “You say something like, “I Admit I am a sinner. I Believe that Jesus Christ is the Saviour. I will Confess you before men. Amen.” “Now you are a Christian,” they are told. “Am I?” “Yes. You have repeated the ‘sinner’s prayer.’” They are even given assurance of salvation after taking three steps. Or you may meet once a week for six weeks in a small group and you are led through a programme of basic Christian teaching. You are asked after a couple of weeks, “Do you believe these things?” “Yes,” you say. Then you are told, “Then you’ve become a Christian.” “I’m a Christian? Oh!” But I say to you I hope you have a stronger foundation than that because that is a typical example of building “on the ground without a foundation.” Take no comfort from the misguided words of that person to you.
Don’t you know that the devils also believe those things? Don’t they? Yes, but they tremble as they think of the implications. Just like a man can believe that in 1066 William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel and defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings and can believe in that sincerely without any need of the special assistance of God the Holy Spirit, so a fool or a devil also can become a believer that Jesus Christ is God. That belief is no evidence that you have a strong foundation. The Lord Jesus has told us that no man can come to Christ except the Father which sent him draw that man to Christ. Apart from that divine drawing ‘faith’ is merely historical faith. It is intellectual faith. It is the faith of devils, and that is not saving faith.
Then there is also what I call ‘vague faith’, or ‘faith in faith.’ A person goes to church because she believes that church-going is important and people ought to. She knows nothing about the contents of the Bible. She never reads it and never reads books about it, and she hears short 10 minute sermons on Sundays which are vague moral exhortations. She thinks nothing more about Jesus Christ from one Sunday to the next, and yet in some vague kind of way she has some vague kind of faith in a vague kind of Christianity. Who needs the inner work of the Holy Spirit which Jesus called “the drawing of the Father” to display such faith as that? All you need is some kind of vague religious belief, and yet in order to truly come to Christ you need a movement of your own heart which Almighty God alone can initiate.
Let me lay for such a person a strong foundation. There was a real person born just over 2008 years ago in Bethlehem in a stable; his virgin mother’s name was Mary. He grew up in Nazareth, was baptized in the river Jordan, began preaching in Galilee, amongst many others he preached a famous sermon on a mountain and another in an upper room in Jerusalem. He raised a man from the dead in Bethany and another dead boy in Nain. He lived an utterly righteous life, the only man ever to have done so. He was crucified on Golgotha’s hill and in his dying he was the Lamb of God to whom was imputed our sins, taking them away. He was buried in a nearby sepulcher. Three days later, as reckoned by the Jews, on a Sunday morning he physically rose from the dead, continued with his disciples for 40 days, occasionally eating and drinking with them until he ascended to heaven where he was enthroned in majesty. Ten days later at the feast of Pentecost, he poured out his Spirit on the church in Jerusalem.
I am laying all that on your mind and conscience in order for you to believe. I am not giving you the option of a pick’n’mix choice of things about the Lord Jesus some of which you may choose to believe and others you reject. God does not give you that option. If he did then he would be saying, “Build your own foundation of what you accept.” No. You have to believe right into this Lord Jesus Christ. Not my Lord Jesus. Not yours, not the Jesus of the feminists, not the Jesus of the lesbian and gay society, not the Jesus of the German philosophers, not the hairy lefty Jesus of the bishops, not the Jesus of teenagers, not the Jesus of the old folks. There is one Jesus only and he is the Jesus of the Old and New Testaments, the one promised and the one who appeared in the fulfillment of time, and you have to take him and inform and educate your faith with his words and deeds, shaping it and molding it by this Jesus only, the one equally God with the Father and Spirit, the Jesus of two natures, divine and human in one person, the Jesus of three offices, God’s given prophet, priest and king. Trusting in him, his life, his death and his risen presence at God’s right hand where he intercedes for his people. He, I say, is your only hope of everlasting life and of a living daily relationship with God. Not vague faith; not faith in faith, but faith in this great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That is the foundation you have to build on. No other foundation may any man lay except him.
Today we don’t go down to the foundations do we? We have a quick and easy evangelism, amusing low-key gospel presentations. Keep it moving, with no time for counting the cost, no time for surveying the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died to redeem sinners, no time for soul conviction, no personal sense of sin, no time for regret over sin, no time for soul searching, nothing deep at all, “Just come to the front, say you’re now a Christian, and get baptized.” We hurry people into faith. Keep it moving, moving, moving. No time for steady growth in grace and Christ-likeness. You relax your jaw and speak in gibberish and then someone will assure you that you’re not just a Christian but a hyper-Christian, a Spirit-filled Christian. Foolish men and women, who have no time to lay a foundation for their lives with God. “What do we want? The blessed life. When do we want it? Now!” And very often the professing church – which claims to be the voice of God in this world – disdains the wise man and accommodates the fool by making it all very quick and easy. If we are sick then ‘the man’ will just lay hands on us and we will be healed instantly. If we are bothered by the demon of debt then ‘the man’ will just lay hands on us and demon debt will be driven away. People have faith in stuff like that because they want instant solutions to very deep problems, but they don’t want the whole Bible as it comes preached to them week after week, and read and thought about day by day, accompanied by the inward penetration of the Holy Spirit to continue to be working deeply in them, helping them to discover God and discover themselves and discover what life really is.
The foolish man is in a hurry; the foolish man is very shallow, and today in the professing church shallowness is at a premium as if it were something valuable. We have been affected by the culture we live in because there is a shallow approach to everything in our culture. It is the quick fix culture, down a few pints, chat abut soccer, swallow a few pills and switch on TV and the time will pass. Thus there is much superficiality done in the name of Jesus. There’s no deep ploughing. There’s no hard spade work in the soul. There are no foundation exercises. There is no consciousness that we are poor in heart, that we are hungry for God, mourning for our sins and despised by the world. There is nothing in shallow people for the world to be afraid of and despise. We are just like the world, but with a religious veneer that people will tell us they admire. We lack depth; we lack sincerity; we lack consecration; we lack serious grappling with God. Everything is shallow. We are “on the ground without a foundation.”
3. WHO WAS THIS WISE MAN?
What did Jesus say about him? How did he describe him? He “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” (v.47&48).
i] He comes to Christ; in other words there is a movement of his heart and soul which he is enabled to take by the power of the Spirit of God. It brings all that he is into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and all that the Saviour is.
ii] Then Jesus also says that the wise man “hears my words” (v. 47), in other words he reads the Bible, and he sits under the most biblical preaching he can hear in order to meet with the uninventable Jesus of the Bible.
iii] Then again Jesus says that he “puts them into practice” (v.47). We say of some people that what they hear ‘goes in one ear and out another.’ The foolish people heard the words of Jesus but it did them no good. Hear three verses of solemn warning, the first from James chapter one, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:22-24). You are hearing the word, but you are not doing it, you are forgetting it. Why? Because you don’t love the word of God. You actually love your own words, and you are self-deceived. The second word of warning is in the first chapter of Titus, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16). What they claim, and how they live, are in total repudiation of one another. The third is found on the lips of Jesus, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31), but only then.
How does Jesus describe such a man who comes to him, and hears his words and puts them into practice? “He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock” (v.48). That is it. Let me describe what this means practically, and then I will describe what it means experientially and personally, and then we will close.
i] What it means practically. I have a friend called Mark Dever who has laid out nine marks of a congregation which is digging down deep and laying a foundation on rock which is the only congregation you should be supporting or encouraging your church to be supporting;
1. It is a church characterized by systematic, experiential, Calvinistic, expository preaching which goes through the Bible week by week and year by year, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. The congregation makes a commitment to hearing God’s Word and to recovering the centrality of it in its worship.
2. It is a church which judges everything it does in the light of the theology found in the Bible, as Paul charges Titus to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
3. It is a church where the gospel is at the heart of all it does. We deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus because he loved us died in our place. That is the good news and that is the hub of all its activities.
4. It is a church with a Biblical understanding of conversion. It does not believe in decisionism. It does not believe in baptismal regeneration. It does not believe that mere historic faith or the faith of demons or vague faith in faith has ever saved anyone or ever will, but rather what I have told you today of knowing the work of the Holy Spirit in your hearts giving you light and life and fruit.
5. It is a church with a Biblical understanding of and commitment to evangelism. To present the gospel as a kind of additive that gives non-Christians something they naturally want (i.e. joy or peace) is to present a half-truth, which elicits false conversions. The whole truth is that our deepest need is deliverance from guilt and condemnation and new spiritual life, and that life only comes by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus. We present the gospel openly, and beseech people to believe, and we leave the converting to God.
6. It is a church with a Biblical understanding of church membership, reflecting a living commitment to a local church in attendance, in giving, in praying and in service. To be a member of such a church is to be traveling together with others who are pilgrims and strangers in this world all heading to a heavenly home.
7. It is a church with a Biblical church discipline which gives parameters to church membership. If we cannot say how a Christian shouldn’t behave, how can we say how he or she should behave? Each local church has a biblical responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders, and of its members, particularly insofar as either, but especially the preacher’s life, could compromise the church’s witness to the gospel.
8. It is a church which promotes Christian discipleship and growth. It encourages a life of increasing knowledge, pure love and also holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial.
9. It is a church with a Biblical understanding of leadership. A man is called by God through the gifts God gives him, and these gifts are recognized as such by a congregation to be their pastor-preacher. He is supported by elders who help point the church in the direction they are going and by deacons who are committed to serving the congregation in the ways they are asked.
Men and women, that is an example of a congregation digging deep. The wise are not in a hurry. They are not looking for the fast track to heaven and the quick conversion, mini sermons to get out of church sooner – for what? Here is an assembly which is making righteous judgments. Jesus said that you don’t build a tower without first counting the cost. You understand what the Lord is asking? He says, “My son, give me your heart.” He is asking for your life, for your whole life, to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow him. So there are those nine indications of a church which is digging deep and establishing itself on the rock.
ii] What it means personally and spiritually. Our Lord has described the foundations of the divinely blessed life in the opening words of this great sermon (vv.20-22) hasn’t he? And so he comes complete circle. Jesus says;
First, you discover your own poverty. You begin by realizing how poor and empty your life is without God.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
Then, two, you know a growing and insatiable hunger for the Lord. Nothing else can satisfy that longing for God. You hunger and thirst for him.
Then, third, you take your sins with every increasing seriousness, and you even weep over them.
Finally, you inevitably attract the hostility of the watching world as it sees your life being changed in those ways by Jesus Christ. Those are the four foundations of the blessed life according to the Lord Christ. That is the rock on which you must build. No blessedness without them.
The wise people who build their lives on the rock want to do God’s will; they count the cost; they are emptied of self-righteousness and of self-sufficiency; they know they have nothing commendable to offer the Holy One. They are overwhelmed by sin, and they make the maximum effort to feed on the living God and grow in the Lord’s strength. Such people will stand when the storm comes, the storm of sickness, of poverty and unemployment, the storm of accident and death visiting those they love, the storm of their worst fears being realized. They will even stand in the last great unavoidable storm itself when they come to the river over which there’s no bridge, when death’s cold, sullen stream comes and rends us soul from body, even then they shall stand. In that evil day they shall stand, and in eternity before the great white throne, having done all they shall stand because of their great foundation.
17th August 2008 GEOFF THOMAS