Robert Benn used to be the Pressie minister at Springwood, and he’s just visited the Presbyterian church in Malawi in Africa. It’s an incredibly vibrant and healthy denomination. Founded by the Scottish missionary David Livingstone.
One of the fascinating stories he told us about was visiting the Blantyre mission (good Scottish name). It’s home to an impressive church building with an even more impressive name. The Church of St Michael and All Angels (show photos). Robert asked why it had such an unusual name. His guide said it was because the building NEEDED “St Michael and all the angels” to stop it falling down.
It was apparently designed and built by well-meaning amateurs who built it directly onto the ground with no foundations. It’s been standing for over a century with only one major repair. Held up by St Michael and all the angels.
But buildings like that are the exception rather than the rule. I’ve told you before about our poor old house. Brick piers laid directly on clay soil on a foundation of a of bricks. And so, the piers move up and down with the seasons as the clay expands and contracts. And the in the walls open and close. And doors jam and swing free.
Which are really only SMALL problems compared with something like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Built with poor foundations on loose ground.
A beautiful building. Lovely paintwork and intricate detail. Great design and construction. ABOVE the ground. But, where it COUNTS, where nobody SEES. It’s sick, rotten at the core.
That’s the thing with FOUNDATIONS. You can’t SEE them, but unless they’re sound, the whole building will collapse.
And it’s the same with lots of people TODAY. So busy building the bits of their life you can SEE. That they’ve forgotten about what REALLY counts. The FOUNDATIONS. They’re working on the mortgage, or the career, or the family, or possessions, or hobbies.
But they’ve forgotten about the God who MADE them. Who created the world. Who’s got a plan for everything including THEM. A plan that includes HIM AT THE CENTRE. Living FOR him, and WITH him. Surely that’s the most important bit of life. After all, it’s the only bit that LASTS. Everything else crumbles, rusts, breaks, disappoints and dies. Everything else just BUILDS on that foundation.
Sure, the things of God, the treasure of his kingdom, it’s not something you can necessarily SEE. But, just like FOUNDATIONS, you ignore it at your peril.
And it’s exactly the same problem the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time were having TOO. Focusing on all sorts of stuff you could SEE. Externals. Being seen to be doing the right thing. Reputation. Status. Good works. Washing hands and clothes. Offering sacrifices.
But ignoring the INTERNALS. Ignoring the state of their heart. Ignoring motives for the sake of actions. Ignoring the desire to please THE INVISIBLE GOD for the sake of pleasing PEOPLE.
And Jesus says they’re in danger of the whole lot crashing down.
We’re at the end of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. There in Matthew chapter 5 to 7. A sermon where Jesus tells Israel it’s time to make up their minds… whether they want to be the people of God anymore or not.
All the prophets have said it in the Old Testament already. That they can’t keep on thinking they’re God’s special people who somehow deserve God’s special blessing… if they’re going to keep on ignoring him in their hearts.
I mean, it’s one thing for the Pharisees to parade around in their fancy robes and say their loud prayers on street corners. But where’s their HEART? Where’s the love? The mercy? Where’s the hunger for true righteousness?
And so we started in chapter 5 with the words Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. For they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful. They’re the ones… who’ll be shown mercy.
And among the hypocritical religious leaders, among the scribes and the Pharisees, there’s not a hungry heart to be found. Not a cup full of mercy to go round.
Religion like that’s a scarey thing, isn’t it? More concerned about OTHERS than with GOD. Externals over internals. Religion over relationship. There’s often a self righteous harshness. All the pomp and ceremony, with none of the humble heart. More concerned with the type of music, or what you’re wearing, than where you heart is as you sing. Pointing the finger, and looking down the nose. Shaking the head. Clicking the tongue.
People like that are the Hyacinth Buckets of the church. All for Keeping up Appearances.
And so, instead, in his sermon on the Mount, Jesus has talked about giving to the needy because you ACTUALLY CARE rather than to be honoured by men…he’s talked about simple prayer in the privacy of your room. About seeking first the kingdom of God… and his righteousness… over and above anything else.
The Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law think they’ve got it all together. But they haven’t realised/ they’re working on stuff that’s just window dressing. That’s not structural. And they’ve ignored the most important things. The foundations. And if they don’t have a change of heart, if they don’t undergo some major structural renovations. Some underpinning. They risk losing the lot. Losing the thing they’ve been striving for the whole time. Their place in the kingdom of God.
Throwing Away What’s Valuable
And Jesus says It’s all about what they VALUE. And what they’re THROWING AWAY.
Some of you know Caron loves to op-shop. And Alex has caught the disease as well. I think it’s about the thrill of the chase. The excitement of finding something others haven’t noticed. A treasure that’s been overlooked. Her best find was 5 goretex rainjackets. Full-on mountaineering equipment. Worth new up to $500 each, and the shop ladies thought they were raincoats. And Caron got them for $5 to $10 each.
It’s the same with that English show “Antique Roadshow”. People bring their oldest rubbish to antique experts who tell them how much the grimy old painting is worth, or their dust-covered vase, or grandma’s old sideboard.
And the best part of the show is the look on someone’s face when they’re told the old rubbish they’d ignored for decades is actually PRICELESS. And they never KNEW IT.
They were so close to just throwing it out. Because they thought it was JUNK.
And it’s the same with the religious leaders in Jesus’ time. As Jesus is bringing the sermon on the mount to a close, he says to them, be careful what you’re throwing away. Be careful that what you’re treating as RUBBISH doesn’t turn out to be INCREDIBLY VALUABLE. Be careful … that you’re not throwing your pearl necklace … in front of pigs. Don’t toss the masterpiece into the rubbish skip. Look how he puts it. Verse 6 in chapter 7.
Don’t give dogs what is SACRED; don’t throw your PEARLS to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
If you squander what’s really valuable, if you throw away your treasure… he says the time will come when you’ll regret it.
Now it’s interesting. Because it’s not too much later Jesus is telling a parable about pearls. Chapter 13. He says “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
The pearl of great price… is to be part of the Kingdom of God. You’d give everything for that. It’s treasure in heaven. Treasure that LASTS. And yet Jesus says what the Pharisees are doing, what the people of Israel are doing… is they’re at great risk of throwing their treasure before pigs. By which he means they’re treating the kingdom of God… as if it’s worthless. And if they’re not careful, they’re going to lose it.
In short, if they want to be part of the kingdom, things will have to change. If they’re going to value the treasure like they should, they’ll need a change of heart. They’ll need to start working on the FOUNDATIONS instead of the paintwork.
That’s the way to make sure of their place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Three Warning Signs
And, as they travel along the road that gets there, Jesus has got three warning signs he wants to make sure they notice. The Pharisees, all the rest of the Israelite people. But US TOO. He wants US to take note of the warnings. To make sure we’re not focussing on curtains and paintwork instead of foundations.
Warning 1 v13: Narrow road ahead. Watch out.
Warning 2 v15: Fake direction signposts. Watch out.
And warning 3 v24: Dangerous weather and road slippages ahead. Follow all instructions EXACTLY.
Check very carefully, Jesus says, as you travel along. That you’re on the right road. Just because the road’s full of people, doesn’t mean it’s heading where you want to go.
Check very carefully that it’s the narrow gate you’re heading for. Because, verse 14, small is the gate… and narrow is the road that leads to LIFE. And only a few find it. Life is what you want. Not destruction.
If you just follow everyone else in front of you. If you just assume they know where they’re going. If you assume that politicians, and lecturers and newspapers and the neighbours and the TV know where they’re going, then before you know it, you’ll be through the WIDE gate. And you’ll have missed the narrow gate that leads to God.
Warning sign 2. Fake Direction signposts. False prophets. V15. They might sound like prophets. They might dress to impress. They might pray on the street corners. But they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. And just like a tree, you can tell that/ by the fruit they bearing.
See, you might be able to dress up the outside. Say the right words, impressive actions. But in the end you can’t dress up the inside. And Jesus says, by their fruit… you’ll recognise them. Because you don’t pick grapes from a thornbush. If they’re bearing les and thorns, don’t kid yourself that it’s a grapevine.
Listen to it twice. Verse 19. Every tree that does not bear good fruit… is cut down and thrown into the fire. You’ll recognise them, says Jesus, you’ll recognise the wolves, you’ll recognise the misleading leaders of Israel by their fruit. And it will be the bitter fruit of judgemental self righteousness. Hardened hearts. Without a glimmer of mercy and love.
And he says they might call on my name and they MIGHT EVEN PERFORM MIRACLES… but if they’re not interested in doing God’s will and reflecting God’s re… I’ll tell them plainly, I never knew you. Get away from me, you evil-doers.
Watch out who you’re following. Who you’re listening to. Check their FRUIT. Because they might be focussing on EXTERNALS and IMPRESSIONS, rather than INTERNALS and FOUNDATIONS.
(Don’t just follow the crowd. And watch which leaders you follow)
And finally, warning 3. Dangerous weather and road slippages ahead. Follow all instructions EXACTLY. V24 The two builders. Right at the end of the whole sermon.
Jesus says, What are you going to DO with what I’ve said? Because there’s a choice to be made. You can do something about it. Or you can keep going the way you’re going and face the consequences.
Jesus says, there’s the WISE man, who builds his house on solid rock; and the rains can come and the streams can rise and the winds can blow. And yet it won’t fall, because its foundations are on the rock. And then there’s the fool. Who builds on sand.
There’s been some footage on the news recently. Of heavy rain and mudslides somewhere overseas. You could watch the home video of that house; the floodwaters are raging past, you can see the corner sag as the foundations are undercut. And within a more seconds, the walls come down and the whole house is swept away in the torrent. And everything’s gone.
And Jesus says in verse 26, everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice, who hears what I’m saying and does nothing about it… is like the foolish builder who built his house on the sand. And the rain comes down and the streams rise, and the winds blow, and beat against the house… and it falls, he says. With a great crash.
The thing with foundations is/ both houses can look identical ABOVE the ground. Solid bricks, nice paintwork, big wide windows, lovely tile roof. But it’s the foundations that will determine whether the house stands or falls.
Two people sitting out there this morning (tonight) can look the same from THE OUTSIDE. They’re wearing their Sunday best. They sing the songs, they close their eyes in the prayers, they sit with their Bibles open. They laugh and smile at morning tea.
But one hears what Jesus says. And DOES it. Hungers for righteousness. Sets her heart on heaven. Seeks first his kingdom. And her house stands firm.
The other one hears the same words. Perhaps loves the SOUND of them. Takes notes during the sermon. Even podcasts the talk so he can hear it again. But he does it to score points, to show how much better he is, to build his reputation, pad his resume. He does it because that’s what he’s always done. To work on the OUTSIDE.
But his heart’s somewhere else. And there’s no life on the inside. And his house is being undermined at the foundations. And it will collapse.
Two men. Which are YOU?
As Jesus says those words about a house built on rock. Not far away in Jerusalem, King Herod is putting the finishing touches to a SPECIAL house on a SPECIAL rock. A house where the eyes and hopes of all Israel are firmly fixed. The new temple. GOD’S house. Built on the solid rock of Mt Zion. The throne of God. A sign of God’s presence among them. Of God’s favour.
The expectation was that with the TEMPLE rebuilt, then Israel would be on the road to success. A sign that God was looking favourably on them again.
But it’s all about EXTERNALS. Jesus is saying the ULTIMATE foundation is not found in a building. Or the bedrock of a mountain. Or in national pride. Or anything else for that matter.
Herod began the work in 19 BC. And even though he died in 4 BC, the temple wasn’t finished for more than 60 years.
But even with such an exhaustive construction process, it only lasted for seven more years. Just as Jesus prophesied. Mt 24 v2. The final days before his crucifixion. He’s looking at the temple, and he says
2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As strong a foundation. As impressive a building. None of it mattered. Because the people’s HEARTS weren’t right with God. And, in AD 70, Jesus’ words came true. Roman soldiers set it on fire, and then razed it to the ground.
Instead, Jesus says the house that will LAST is built on obeying his words. Not IGNORING them like the Jewish leaders did. Not saying Lord, Lord, but doing whatever YOU want.
Not following the crowd through the WIDE gate, and missing the NARROW gate.
Not storing up treasure on EARTH, rather than building it in heaven.
The ultimate foundation is to HEAR Jesus’ words. And then DO them. That’s the way to avoid being destroyed by the floodwaters of God’s judgment. Waters that sweep away false prophets and hypocrites. The proud and the religious. The self-serving and worriers.
(pause) A few chapters on in Matthew, Ch 16 v16, Jesus is talking about ANOTHER rock. The disciple Simon, whose nickname, Peter, means ROCK. And when Simon confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, here’s Jesus’ reply.
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter (ROCKY), and ON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
The church would be built on the disciples of Jesus who proclaim Jesus as the messiah, the son of the living God. In other words, the foundation is JESUS HIMSELF.
That’s the house – the church – we’re part of building today.
And, AS A CHURCH, as we work on doing that. Studying Jesus’ words together. Meeting in home groups, praying together, encouraging each other. Singing and praying together. Being REAL with each other. About struggles and victories. Serious about encouraging each other to DO WHAT Jesus SAYS.
That’s the foundation we have to be building on. Seriously, consciously, persistently, unswervingly hearing what Jesus says, and then removing every barrier and excuse that stops us from obeying it.
That’s the foundation that will keep us strong, not just from the storms of God’s judgment. But strong through the storms of human opinion, of false teaching, of persecution, of unemployment and sickness and breakdowns, and other sorts of trials. The storms of loneliness and hopelessness. Of false accusations and discouragements.
Hear Jesus’ words and PUT THEM INTO PRACTICE.
Years later that same disciple, Simon the Rock, wrote to Christians scattered all over the known world. In 1 Peter 2, he describes the church, wherever Christians might be as a house firmly built on a solid foundation.
4 As you come to him (that’s Jesus), the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him- 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
Jesus is the PRECIOUS stone. The most VALUABLE treasure there is. Hear his words and DO them. That’s the way to build the ultimate foundation for your life. A foundation that will stand up to whatever comes your way.
Where’s YOUR priority? Are you preoccupied with the stuff OTHER PEOPLE SEE? Could even be good, ministry stuff. But you’ve forgotten about what’s INSIDE. Your attitudes? Your personal godliness? Your priorities? Your prayer-life? Your giving? Stuff nobody sees.