THE ONLY TRUE FOUNDATION
So, then, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be likened to a wise man who built his house upon the rock. And the rain came down, and the rivers swelled, and the wind blew, and fell upon that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be likened to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. And the rain came down, and the rivers swelled, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell; and its fall was great. And when Jesus had ended these words, the people were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their Scribes.
Jesus was in a double sense an expert. He was an expert in scripture. The writer of Proverbs gave him the hint for his picture: “When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established for ever” (Prov.10:25). Here is the germ of the picture which Jesus drew of the two houses and the two builders. But Jesus was also an expert in life. He was the craftsman who knew all about the building of houses, and when he spoke about the foundations of a house he knew what he was talking about. This is no illustration formed by a scholar in his study; this is the illustration of a practical man.
Nor is this a far-fetched illustration; it is a story of the kind of thing which could well happen. In Palestine the builder must think ahead. There was many a gully which in summer was a pleasant sandy hollow, but was in winter a raging torrent of rushing water. A man might be looking for a house; he might find a pleasantly sheltered sandy hollow; and he might think this a very suitable place. But, if he was a short-sighted man, he might well have built his house in the dried-up bed of a river, and, when the winter came, his house would disintegrate. Even on an ordinary site it was tempting to begin building on the smoothed-over sand, and not to bother digging down to the shelf of rock below, but that way disaster lay ahead.
Only a house whose foundations are firm can withstand the storm; and only a life whose foundations are sure can stand the test. Jesus demanded two things.
(i) He demanded that men should listen. One of the great difficulties which face us today is the simple fact that men often do not know what Jesus said or what the Church teaches. In fact the matter is worse. They have often a quite mistaken notion of what Jesus said and of what the Church teaches. It is no part of the duty of an honourable man to condemn either a person, or an institution, unheard–and that today is precisely what so many do. The first step to the Christian life is simply to give Jesus Christ a chance to be heard.
(ii) He demanded that men should do. Knowledge only becomes relevant when it is translated into action. It would be perfectly possible for a man to pass an examination in Christian Ethics with the highest distinction, and yet not to be a Christian. Knowledge must become action; theory must become practice; theology must become life. There is little point in going to a doctor, unless we are prepared to do the things we hear him say to us. There is little point in going to an expert, unless we are prepared to act upon his advice. And yet there are thousands of people who listen to the teaching of Jesus Christ every Sunday, and who have a very good knowledge of what Jesus taught, and who yet make little or no deliberate attempt to put it into practice. If we are to be in any sense followers of Jesus we must hear and do.
Is there any word in which hearing and doing are summed up? There is such a word, and that word is obedience. Jesus demands our implicit obedience. To learn to obey is the most important thing in life.
Some time ago there was a report of the case of a sailor in the Royal Navy who was very severely punished for a breach of discipline. So severe was the punishment that in certain civilian quarters it was thought to be far too severe. A newspaper asked its readers to express their opinions about the severity of the punishment
One who answered was a man who himself had served for years in the Royal Navy. In his view the punishment was not too severe. He held that discipline was absolutely essential, for the purpose of discipline was to condition a man automatically and unquestioningly to obey orders, and on such obedience a man’s life might well depend. He cited a case from his own experience. He was in a launch which was towing a much heavier vessel in a rough sea. The vessel was attached to the launch by a wire hawser. Suddenly in the midst of the wind and the spray there came a single, insistent word of command from the officer in charge of the launch. “Down!” he shouted. On the spot the crew of the launch flung themselves down. Just at that moment the wire towing-hawser snapped, and the broken parts of it whipped about like a maddened steel snake. If any man had been struck by it he would have been instantly killed. But the whole crew automatically obeyed and no one was injured. If anyone had stopped to argue, or to ask why, he would have been a dead man. Obedience saved lives.
It is such obedience that Jesus demands. It is Jesus’ claim that obedience to him is the only sure foundation for life; and it is his promise that the life which is founded on obedience to him is safe, no matter what storms may come.
LOVE IN ACTION
Matt. 7:24-29 (continued)
Of all the gospel writers Matthew is the most orderly. He never sets out his material haphazardly. If in Matthew one thing follows another in a certain sequence, there is always a reason for that sequence; and it is so here. In Matt. 5-7 Matthew has given us the Sermon on the Mount. That is to say, in these chapters he has given us his account of the words of Jesus; and now in Matt. 8 he gives us an account of the deeds of Jesus. Matt. 5-7 show us the divine wisdom in speech; Matt. 8 shows us the divine love in action.
Matt. 8 is a chapter of miracles. Let us look at these miracles as a whole, before we proceed to deal with them in detail. In the chapter there are seven miraculous happenings.
(i) There is the healing of the leper (Matt. 8:1-4). Here we see Jesus touching the untouchable. The leper was banished from the society of men; to touch him, and even to approach him, was to break the Law. Here we see the man who was kept at arm’s length by all men wrapped around with pity and the compassion of the love of God.
(ii) There is the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matt. 8:5-13). The centurion was a Gentile, and therefore the strict orthodox Jew would have said that he was merely fuel for the fires of hell; he was the servant of a foreign government and of an occupying power and therefore the nationalistic Jew would have said that he was a candidate for assassination and not for assistance; the servant was a slave and a slave was no more than a living tool. Here we see the love of God going out to help the man whom all men hated and the slave whom all men despised.
(iii) There is the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother (Matt. 8:14-15). This miracle took place in a humble cottage in a humble home in Palestine. There was no publicity; there was no admiring audience; there was only Jesus and the family circle. Here we see the infinite love of the God of all the universe displaying all its power when there was none but the circle of the family to see.
(iv) There was the healing of all the sick who were brought to the doors at evening time (Matt. 8:16-17). Here we see the sheer universality of the love of God in action. To Jesus no one was ever a nuisance; he had no hours when he was on duty and hours when he was off duty. Any man could come to him at any time and receive the willing, gracious help of the love of God.
(v) There was the reaction of the scribe (Matt. 8:18-22). On the face of it this little section appears to be out of place in a chapter on miracles; but this is the miracle of personality. That any scribe should be moved to follow Jesus is nothing less than a miracle. Somehow this scribe had forgotten his devotion to the Scribal Law; somehow although Jesus contradicted all the things to which he had dedicated his life, he saw in Jesus not an enemy but a friend, not an opponent but a master.
It must have been an instinctive reaction. Negley Farson writes of his old grandfather. When Farson was a boy, he did not know his grandfather’s history and all that he had done, but, he says, “All I knew was that he made other men around him look like mongrel dogs.” That scribe saw in Jesus a splendour and a magnificence he had never seen in any other man. The miracle happened, and the scribe’s heart ran out to Jesus Christ.
(vi) There is the miracle of the calming of the storm (Matt. 8:23-27). Here we see Jesus dealing with the waves and the billows which threaten to engulf a man. As Pusey had it when his wife died, “All through that time it was as if there was a hand beneath my chin to bear me up.” Here is the love of God bringing peace and serenity into tumult and confusion.
(vii) There is the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (Matt. 8:28-34). In the ancient world people believed that all illness was due to the action of devils. Here we see the power of God dealing with the power of the devil; here we see God’s goodness invading earth’s evil, God’s love going out against evil’s malignancy and malevolence. Here we see the goodness and the love which save men triumphantly overcoming the evil and the hatred which ruin men.
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