6/19/2017 9:21:00 AM
How Firm a Foundation
Sermon by Pastor Nathan Moldenhauer, based on Matthew 7:15-29.
When looking in God’s Word for assurance of your Savior’s love, where do turn? I doubt any of us turn to the words of Jesus in Matthew 7. In fact, this week I looked at a list of 100 Bible verses showing Jesus’ love. And believe it or not, “Watch out for false prophets…” “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire…” “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers…’” “… and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash…” were nowhere to be found.
When reflecting on Jesus’ love, we rightly turn to what he has done for us, living, dying, rising again, and what he continues to do, ruling the world for our good, interceding on our behalf at the right hand of God the Father. We rightly remember his amazing gospel promises. Those are wonderful places in God’s Word to go back to again and again. Yet, doesn’t Jesus’ warnings in today’s lesson also show how dearly he loves us. Isn’t it his love that moves him to say “Watch out?” Isn’t it his love that compels him to show us the difference between those who just hear his words and those who hear them and put them into practice? Jesus says the things he does in Matthew 7, because he loves us.
Think about it. Why do you teach your children that the stove is hot and not to touch it? Or, that walking into the street is dangerous and they need to hold your hand when crossing it? Do you do it because you don’t really care about them that much and it’s no big deal if they would burn themselves or get hit by a car? No! You warn them, you teach them these things because you love them and you never want anything bad to happen to them.
The two verses right before our lesson really set the scene for the love Jesus shares in the next 13 verses. Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Because, Jesus wants nothing more than for you and me to remain on the narrow road and enter through the narrow gate to heaven, he warns concerning three dangers threatening each of us while on the narrow the road. Yet, just one antidote can make us immune to all three dangers, to all three threats: Having a firm foundation in God’s Word. We can’t say it better than the Hymn of the Day, “How firm a foundation, O Saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word.”
Jesus’ first warning is this, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. A false prophet is any prophet, pastor, teacher, TV or radio evangelist who claims to have the truth, but then leads his hearers off the narrow road by teaching contrary to what the Bible says. The scary part is they come in sheep’s clothing. They look like true prophets. They appear to be faithful pastors. They’re sincere and kind. We can’t recognize them by their outward appearances or acts, but only by their fruit Jesus says. The fruit of a prophet, the fruit of pastor or preacher is his message. A rotten tree produces rotten fruit. Examine the fruit. Does his message clearly reflect and line up with what God says in his Word? Or, does he throw in his own opinions? Does he add to and subtract from the Word of God? Does he fail to teach some of the more difficult teachings of the Bible, simply proclaiming what his hearers want to hear? Is this sincere preacher a sheep or a dangerous, ferocious wolf?
“Well, that will never happen here at Immanuel.” “That will never take place in a WELS church.” How can you be so sure? You must examine the fruit. Take your lead from the Berans. In the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul came to the city of Berea preaching and teaching in the synagogue. This is what it says. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” And this was the Apostle Paul! He had direct revelation from God and wrote nearly half of the New Testament. Yet, the Berans made sure that what Paul said was in line with God’s Word.
As the teller at the bank held up a crisp $100 bill to the light, I asked her. “How do you know if it’s a fake? You must attend endless classes and workshops to learn what the fake bills look like.” “No,” she said. “I simply examine and study the real thing. After handling the authentic bills day after day and becoming so familiar with how the real bills look and feel, it’s not hard to spot a fake.”
How will you recognize the rotten fruit of a rotten prophet? By studying the real thing. By becoming so familiar with the good fruit. Download the “YouVersion” Bible app onto your phone. Read or listen to the book of Romans this Summer. Make it a goal to be in church every week, even the weeks a baseball tournament or vacation take you out of town. Take Starting Point a second time. And your children? This is important for them too. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”(Proverbs 22:6) Read Bible stories and devotions at home around the dinner table or your child’s bed at night. Bring them to Kids GROW, Immanuel’s Sunday School, each week starting up again in Fall. It’s by those means that you and your family will spot the wolf in sheep’s clothing and remain on the narrow road.
With Jesus’ next warning he really asks the question: Where have you placed your confidence for entering the kingdom of heaven? Like the false prophets, are you relying on the great and many things you have done for the Lord? Or, do you rely on what the Bible says God the Father has done for you through his Son, Jesus Christ? Jesus says, “Knowing my name, saying ‘Lord, Lord.’ Having your name on the books of Christian church. Coming to church every week or volunteering for everything. Going to Lutheran schools. Even proclaiming and sharing God’s Word with others. If those are the things you’re counting on to get you through the gates of heaven, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Yet, doesn’t Jesus say we have to do the will of his Father in heaven? He does. But what is God the Father’s will? What is it that he desires? Jesus says in John chapter 6, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Jesus adds. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”(John 6:29, 40) God’s will is that we rely on what Jesus has done for us, namely that he lived perfectly, fulfilling every last word that God the Father commanded of you and me. That he took our punishment upon himself while dying on the cross. He was unknown by God, his own Father, so that we may be known. Then he rose again from death to life guaranteeing the “not guilty” verdict for you and me. That’s God’s will! To rely solely on the work and merit of his son, Jesus Christ! And that confidence is only found in the firm foundation of God’s excellent word.
Jesus’ third and final warning, or encouragement, comes in the form of a parable. He gives a picture of what it looks like for you and me to have a life that stands strong and secure against every difficulty and trouble, a life that will even stand up to the judgement of the last day. Jesus says there were two men, a wise man and foolish man. The wise man built the foundation of his house into the bedrock. He had a rock-solid foundation. But the foolish man built on the sand. He had no foundation for his house. Now from the outside, both houses looked the same. They both appeared to be great homes. But when the storms came, one house stood unmoved while the other fell with a great crash.
Jesus identifies the two builders as those who hear his words. But the wise man not only heard Jesus’ words, but he put them into practice in his life. He heard, read, studied, learned, and inwardly digested Jesus’ words. They grew a confidence in him that nothing could shake or rattle. He stood on the the firm foundation of God’s Word. From God’s Word, this man knew who he was, a dearly loved child of his Father in heaven. He knew what God had done for him, he sent his Son. And because that’s where his confidence rest, his thoughts, his words, his actions, his entire life, reflected the words and teachings of Jesus.
Perhaps what is surprising to us is Jesus says the foolish man too heard God’s Word. But he failed to put them into practice. Jesus’ words don’t grow a confidence in this man. They don’t bear fruit in his life. Though he hears God’s Word, his life isn’t anchored into it. He may very well hear the Word of God preached every weekend in church, but that’s where it stops. And because he has no foundation, when the rain comes down, the water comes up, and the winds blow, the house falls. When there is a financial difficulty and his income is no longer there, when marriage problems arise, when a child gets sick, the man without his foundation firmly set into God’s Word will be rattled, he will be shaken. But even more sobering than those real everyday difficulties, what happens to this man when he faces judgment before the throne of God? He will certainly fall with a great crash.
Remember why Jesus says these words. He doesn’t say them to scare or frighten us. Jesus gives such warnings and encouragement because he loves us. Because of what Jesus has already done for us, winning and securing eternal life, he wants to keep us on the narrow road. He wants us to enter through that narrow gate to heaven. Jesus’ warnings concerning false prophets, having our confidence in the right place, and our lives built on the firm foundation of God’s Word, as sobering as they may be, they’re all rooted in his great love for you and me.
“How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he has said, Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?” Amen.