Pentecost 2a

Preached: May 25, 2008

Sand or Bedrock? What Are You Building on?
Matthew 7:15-29

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who has ransomed you to be his own. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts today is Matthew 7.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inside they are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them from their fruits. Does one gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? So every good tree makes fine fruit, but the worthless tree makes bad fruit. A good tree cannot make bad fruit nor can a worthless tree make fine fruit. Every tree not making fine fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore you will recognize them from their fruits.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, rather the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name, and drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will make it clear to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers.’

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down; the rivers rose; the winds blow and fell against that house. And it did not fall. For it was founded on the rock.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down; the rivers rose; the winds blew and hit that house. It fell, and its fall was great.”

It happened that when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching. For he was teaching them as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law.

This is the word of the our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed in the blood of our risen Savior:

Jesus spoke the words of the text as he closed his sermon on the mount. Imagine that last scene he describes with the wise man and the foolish one.

The wise man built his house on solid rock, bedrock. The rain pelted the roof. The flooding rivers washed against the foundation. Hear the wind pelting against the walls trying again and again to knock them down. But the house stood.

Then there was the foolish man who built on sand. Now see and hear the storm. The rain pelting down, the rivers flooding, the winds howling. The house falls with a great crash.

And Jesus stops. No more words. He leaves that image carved into our minds, compelling each of us to search our hearts and ask: “Sand or bedrock? What am I building on?”

Let's contemplate that question as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts through these words of Jesus.

A. Beware of false fruit

1) What are false prophets and why are they dangerous?

As we begin, we need to talk about a dirty word -- at least a dirty word in the world's mind. This word has nothing to do with sex, so you don't have to cover young ears. It's not one of those expletives that the FCC tries to ban from the airwaves. All those are much more acceptable to our society than this word.

And that word is . . . doctrine. Yes, that's right, doctrine, teachings -- especially when you claim that there is right, true doctrine that's the authority over all and anything contradicting it is false. That really breaks the world's taboo. Think of how Jesus taught as one with authority. For us to appeal to what Jesus taught, to his doctrine, as the authority deeply offends the world. How dare you say that someone else's teaching is false! How dare you judge their doctrine and condemn it! Who do you think you are to say that the doctrine you believe is right and what they believe is false! You see why it's such a dirty word to the world?

But that's exactly what Jesus is telling us to do when he says, “Watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7:15 NIV). How can you do that unless you judge whether what they teach is true or false? A prophet claims to teach a message from God. Beware those who say they are speaking God's Word but aren't. Whether you call them false prophets or false teachers, stay away. Beware!

Beware, because they appear very deceptive. Jesus calls them wolves in sheep's clothing. They dress up like one of Jesus' lambs. They uses words from the Bible, words you know well. They even call Jesus Lord and Savior, doing great things in his name. Often they are very sincere because they have fooled themselves as well. But false doctrine, even from good and sincere people, false doctrine tears apart faith like a ravenous wolf tearing apart a little lamb. Beware!

2) How do you recognize them?

Beware, because, since they're dressed as sheep, you will find them in Christian churches and pulpits. It's easy to spot the atheist who rejects the Bible or the Muslim who places the Koran above the Bible or any number of those false religions out there. Since they reject the Bible, there is no question that they are false prophets. But how do you spot that false teacher who uses the Bible, who dresses himself or herself up in Biblical words and Bible references and Christian allusions? How do you spot them? “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16, 18 NIV), Jesus says.

And this brings us back to that dirty word, doctrine. Just as a tree produces fruit, what does a teacher produce? Teachings, doctrines. Be their fruit, by what they teach, by their doctrine, you will know them. You will recognize whether they are teaching God's truth or false doctrine.

But how can you know whether their teaching is good fruit, sound doctrine, or bad fruit, false doctrine? Be like the Bereans. When the Apostle Paul came to preach in the city of Berea, how did they figure out whether he was teaching God's truth or false doctrine? Acts 17 says, “They . . . examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11 NIV). Search the Scriptures. Let the Scriptures judge what is sound doctrine and what is false. To do that, of course, you yourself need to know what the Scriptures say . Don't take my word for it. I could be a wolf in sheep's clothing, a false prophet. The only way to watch out for false teachers and beware their false fruit is to know the true fruit, the Bible, God's Word, the Scriptures.

For only the true fruit, sound doctrine drawn from Scripture alone, only that is the rock-solid foundation for your faith and life. Everything else is sinking sand. The world, by despising true doctrine, says that everything is sand. There is no real truth out there, no authority, no doctrine that is always good fruit. And then in the next breath they says that whatever sand you choose is a good foundation for you. But don't forget what Jesus said, “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:27 NIV). Don't build on sand. Beware the false fruit from those wolves in sheep's clothing.

B. Believe in the firm foundation

1) What does it mean to do the Father's will and put Jesus' words into practice?

Rather believe in the firm foundation. Build on the bedrock, the sound doctrine, God's truth, Jesus' authoritative teaching. This brings us to the second part today and leads us to examine our own faith. What foundation am I building on? Sand or bedrock?

For you see, we can fool ourselves. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21 NIV). We might use the right words, come to church often, give generously, put on a good show of Christian virtues, but there is one key difference between those who fool themselves and those who are building on the bedrock foundation.

To see that key difference, think about Jesus' words: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21 NIV). What is the Father's will? The Scriptures answer that. In John 6 Jesus says, “For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life”(John 6:40 NIV). God wants to save sinners through faith in Jesus. To do the Father's will can only begin with Spirit-worked faith.

In the same way when Jesus talks about the wise man not only hearing his word but also putting them into practice. That too begins with Spirit-worked faith. For Jesus words call out, “Repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15 NIV). How else do we put that into practice but by faith that sees the terror of our sins and rejoices in the Good News of forgiveness through Jesus' blood?

Now faith in Jesus earnestly desires to serve him who died for us. Such faith bursts forth in works of love and kindness. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purposes” (Philippians 2:13 NIV). So, to do the Father's will, to put Jesus' words into practice, is faith showing itself in love.

2) On what foundation is your faith built?

But on what foundation is your faith built? Sand or bedrock? Do you build on the self-confidence that you know the right facts about Jesus, that you belong to the right kind of church, that you do the right things in life. Then you're building on sand. You're building on your own achievements. Or maybe you think that since you know how to ask Jesus for forgiveness, you can freely sin. There again you're building on sand. Like those that cry out “Lord, Lord” you might not know the words to say, but Jesus' doesn't know you as his own. “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:23 NIV). How dreadful those words will be!

Don't believe in yourself, in your Bible knowledge, in your good life. Believe in the firm foundation. Believe in Jesus and his Word. Forsake all the sandy foundations, even though they may seem like a beach-side paradise. Abandon all hope in your own efforts to win God's favor. That's nothing but quicksand. Despair of your own goodness standing up before God. For you and I are sinners -- guilty, guilty sinners. A child's sand castle has a better chance of withstanding a raging flood than we have of standing before God based on our own goodness.

Rather, believe in Jesus and his Word. He alone is our Paradise. He alone is our Hope. Only his goodness stands up before God, and his Word promises that he freely credits you with his goodness. This is the Good News. This is the one and only firm foundation. Believe in the firm foundation.

For with your faith built on the bedrock of Jesus and his word, you will stand firm. No matter what storm rages against you, no matter how cloudy the future, no matter how fiercely the troubles of life rain down on you and sorrow wells up within you, no matter the tragedies that rage against you like a swollen river, no matter how hard the winds of Satan's accusations blow against you, even when death itself beats at the door, your foundation will not fail. For you are built on the rock, Jesus and his Word. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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