God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, February 6, 2018
49 But the one who listened to my words and did not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river broke against it, it fell immediately, and that house was completely destroyed.”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say “anyone” or “everyone” this time. He says, “The one.” The one who listened to Jesus and didn’t do what the Lord said did not build on the solid bedrock foundation. He built on something else. In Matthew, the “something else” is sand. Here, Jesus doesn’t specify anything more than “the ground” (Greek γῆ, “earth”). The contrast is not bedrock vs. soil, or vs. mud, or vs. a bog, but bedrock vs. anything at all. The picture must have been familiar and clear to men and women living in Galilee near the Jordan’s banks. Some traveler might arrive in the summer and decide to build his house in a gentle crook or turn of the meandering Jordan. But winter came, the torrential rains fell in their endless sheets, the feeding streams swelled up in the hill country, and then one day the river swelled over. In a chaos of shrieks and cries of despair, the river would crash through. All in a moment the house was gone, swept away, and the gentle crook of the meandering Jordan had nothing but grass standing on it once again.
So Jesus ends his sermon with an unasked question: What will you build the house of your faith upon? Will it be “the lying pens of the scribes” (Jeremiah 8:8), which has no foundation at all, or will it be on the solid bedrock of the word of Jesus Christ? In the eighth or ninth century A.D., a rabbinic echo of this parable was incorporated into the Jewish Talmud. “One who has done good works, who has studied much Torah—to what may he be compared? He is like lime poured over stones. Even when many rains fall, they cannot push it out of place. And one in whom there are no good works, even though he has studied much Torah, is like lime poured over bricks. Even when a little rain falls on it, it softens immediately and is washed away” (Avot d’Rabbi Natan, 24). It’s not at all surprising, but terribly sad, that the rabbi replaced listening to Jesus with doing good works. That’s exactly the kind of worthless foundation Jesus was warning against. The only solid foundation for our faith is the word of Christ, not our good works or anything else.
We shouldn’t assign a particular meaning to the river’s sudden breaking, because it is any test that comes to our faith. It can be seen as the inevitable Last Day, but for each Christian, there are many days before that Day when something will come crashing down against our faith. One of the things that can erode what we build is pride, especially the kind of pride that a person with an education can feel. One day at the dinner table Luther said, “Every proud person is a heretic, if not actually, then potentially. However, it’s difficult for a man who has excellent gifts not to be arrogant. Those whom God most adorns with great gifts he plunges into the most severe trials in order that they may learn that they’re nothing. Paul got a thorn in the flesh to keep him from being haughty. And if Philip [Melanchthon] were not so afflicted [with physical troubles] he would have curious notions… Pride drove the angel out of heaven and spoils many preachers. Accordingly it’s humility that’s needed in the study of sacred literature” (Table Talk, number 5017. LW 54 p 378-379).
God said to Isaiah, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed” (Isaiah 28:16). Trust in the words of Jesus; trust in all the words of Holy Scripture. Put your faith in Jesus’ assurance of the forgiveness of your sins, and live your life as a thank-you, whether yours will be a hundred years or a hundred days. Don’t let your opinion about yourself get in the way of your faith, whether you might think you’re the wisest man in town or the biggest fool. What matters is what God thinks of you—his compassion for your misplaced pride or your undercutting humility. Let God’s grace lift you up. It’s the gift of the cross that enables each of us to bear up under our crosses. Jesus Christ has already accomplished what each of us needs most.
Pastor Timothy Smith
To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.