A sermon preached September 26, 2021 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Part of our “Parables of Jesus” series.
Rock or Sand?
Even if we don’t much about construction, when we hear of an unexpected building collapse, we intuitively know that a foundation problem was likely the cause of the implosion.
We think of the recent and very tragic Surfside condominium collapse in Florida, where water penetration and corrosion caused the reinforcing steel in the parking garage to give way. Sometimes foundation failure is slow and can only be seen in the long run (think of the Leaning Tower of Pisa).
But here Jesus uses the image of a house being built on either rock (the rock, in fact) or sand to teach us that, spiritually speaking, there is only rock or sand to build with. There is no in between. There is no half-good foundation. It’s one or the other.
Jesus’ listeners would have readily understood the images in this parable. In Jesus’ day, a day without poured concrete and modern building techniques, in order to securely build a house, you had to down get to the rock. You had to dig deep enough down, past the hard clay, so that your house, founded on the good rock, might not implode or be swept away in the changing seasons it would have to endure.
Isn’t that one of the first bits of application from our text today? We live in a time where it is incredibly easy to never dig past the surface. Social media encourages us to simply emote, to be given to that which is trite and cliché, to be “sheeple” as is popularly said. To never really think through the deepest issues of life and the claims of Christ. Whether you find yourself inside and outside the church today, can I challenge you today to dig?
Digging Deeper: Jesus is the Foundation Stone (vs. 46-47)
But there’s even more than that. It’s not as if Jesus reached into thin air and said, “let me see…I’m like a, uh, ROCK. Yeah, that’s it!” Jesus is drawing out an image found in Scripture that he himself put there, so that when he came to earth he could say, “I’m that.”
I want to slow us down here for a moment so that we can see the beauty and power of this parable in context. Is. 28, which we read from earlier describes the Lord’s choice gemstone which God himself will one day put in Jerusalem. Anyone who trusts in this precious stone, says Isaiah, will never be shaken. Isaiah proclaims this in contrast to those who are trusting in foreign armies to save God’s people from invasion. So there’s this future promise that Isaiah points to, and he says, this is where it’s at! This is where you should put your hope.
Fast forward to the first century. One the one hand, you have some Jewish communities who are claiming to be that very promised rock and on other the hand, you have the temple leadership claiming that Herod’s Temple is the promised foundation stone. Now it gets even better, because what I discovered is that in Herod’s Temple there was literally a massive foundation stone in the Holy of Holies. Guess what it was called by the temple leadership. That’s right: The Foundation. (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Ken Bailey, pgs. 326-327) Today, the temple is gone, but the rock is still there. This rock is now covered by the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.
Now, into that context Jesus steps forth and says, “I AM that foundation rock! I AM the substance of the shadows of the temple. I AM the one that Isaiah longed to see.” Jesus says, build your life upon me and my teaching and you will not be shaken because I will never be shaken!” Moreover, Christ’s Church, built on him, is now full of living living stones. And so Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) A living rock and a living people.
The Two (Shaken) Builders (vs. 48-49)
Shaken in This Life
Let’s look now at the two builders themselves. The key difference is what or, rather, who their life is founded upon. But they also have things in common. Both undergo the same “shaking.” (v. 48) But only one comes out standing.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament notes the full meaning of this word: In the Greek of the time, “This word is used for the tossing of the sea, the shaking of an earthquake, natural becoming and perishing, political unrest, earthly uncertainty, human vacillation, and physical change.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Geoffrey Bromiley, pg. 996) It means, in summary, “to render insecure.”
Christians, people founded on the rock of Christ, are not exempt from being shaken. We share in the tremors of this life, but we will be enabled to stand firm because of the One who holds us up. And so James is able to say to us: “2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
But notice also, the two houses would both looked pretty good until the shaking occurred. Outwardly, no difference. Nice shutters, nice doors, and some nice paint. It’s what’s under them that’s makes all the difference in the world. Trial and loss reveal what is there, and what is not there. And when it comes, it is often too late to repair the foundation! In their song “If” the contemporary music group Beautiful Eulogy put it like this: “What is concealed in the heart of having…is revealed in the losing of things.” Just as it was too late to repair the foundation of Surfside once the water had done its damage, so it is often too late turn back (though it’s not impossible – remember the Thief on the Cross!) and found one’s life on the Rock of Christ.
Here’s what I mean: often when someone who does not know Christ goes through serious trial in their life, what happens? They get angry with God. God has failed them in their view. He should have given them more – more time, more wealth, more ease, more happiness. The time to build on the rock is now, not when the crisis hits.
A Shaking to Come
But this shaking points us to more than just tribulations, it also points us to the final Judgment to come. It’s pictured as a flood – that’s not coincidental. The first flood was God’s great judgment on the sinfulness of man. There is another judgment to come. And when that comes, it’s already too late to prepare! Psalm 32:7 says, “For this reason shall all the godly make their prayers unto you at a time when you may be found; when the great floodwaters rise, they shall not reach them.” (New Coverdale Psalter)
What this shaking says to us is that only what is built upon the Gospel of Christ and his teaching and done out of love for God and neighbor will last into eternity. Everything else will end up on the ash heap of history. I was reading from the daily lectionary on Friday, and the reading from Hebrews could not have been more appropriate to our passage today.
“[God] has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:26b-29)
I read with much interest the story of Ocean Tower on South Padre Island in Texas. One blog article called “An Engineer’s Nightmare” recounts the bid to build “31-stories of unprecedented views over the ocean. It was touted as the “highest structure in the Rio Grande Valley”. Amenities included with each condo were “Italian marble floors, granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, custom cabinets, stainless steel fixtures, over-sized Jacuzzi tub and stand-up showers.”
Problem is that the structure was mistakenly built with the force of the complex coming down on expandable clay, causing the core of the building to sink and lean. It was eventually brought down in December of 2009 with a controlled implosion. Great was the ruin of that house.
See, those fancy, high-end amenities meant nothing with a foundation out of whack. Just so, our boasting before God, our own sense of worthiness and good works, will speak against us and bear no fruit unless we are founded on the Rock of Jesus Christ – his person and his work. I’ll never tired of reminding us of the great heritage we have in the 39 Articles. Here’s what Article says here: “Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s Judgement; yet they are pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.”
In fact, bearing fruit is what our Lord was talking about right before he told this parable. “No good tree,” he says, “bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is know by its own fruit.” (Luke 6:43-44) And so Jesus says, “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like…” Here “doing the word” of Jesus has the sense of “holding fast to, trusting, cherishing, and continuing in the faith.” (Arthur Just, Luke 9:51-24:53, pg. 475) What is that person like? Like a tree that will bear good fruit. Like a house built on an unassailable foundation.
Come with me to Revelation. Let’s end there. This is, finally and fully, the crisis and the flood spoken of by Jesus:
“11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15)
Author Louis Brighton is helpful here: “John not only sees the books of judgment, but also “the book of life.” All whose names are written in “the book of life” are recorded in the heart of God as ones who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb … . For this reason in the books of judgment only their good deeds are recorded and not their sins, for their sins and guilt have been blotted out of God’s mind and so will not be the object of his righteous anger and judgment. God lists the good deeds of his saints, and they will be recalled as visible demonstrations of their saving faith in his grace, wrought for them by Christ, the victorious Lamb.” (Revelation by Louis Brighton, pg. 584)
Here’s the good news: if your life is founded on Christ, then in one sense the work is done. But if you believe that, then you are free to spend your life building upon that foundation to God’s glory, that one day the house of your life might stand in Jesus. As St. Augustine said, “Love God and do what you will.”
And so to God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be all praise and glory, dominion and power, now and forevermore! Amen.