“Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:1-23)
Here we see Jesus, out walking and talking with a group of disciples – probably with a larger crowd of people around them listening in, when they are interrupted by yet another group of religious experts who want to question Jesus. This time we have local group of Pharisees who have decided to bring in some big-shot scribes (or lawyers) from the city of Jerusalem.
Think of it like having the Beckwith Township hire a group of law professors from McGill or U of Toronto to come and interrupt our church picnic so they can ask us some questions about ways that they believe we are are engaging in civil disobedience and breaking local standards of conduct. The day would go from pleasant to extremely dramatic in very short order.
Mark gives us some back-story on what’s going on here, explaining to his readers (who were probably gentile Romans), why the forthcoming conversation about washing one’s hands was such a big deal. It would be easy to wonder why Jesus said what He did, if you didn’t know the background of the story.
Now, if you know me, then you know that I have a love-affair with hand sanitizer. My brain no longer associates the smell of lemon and pine with clean – now it’s the nostril stinging scent of hand-sanitizer that smells like clean! Mmm Purell.
But what the Pharisees are talking about is far more than just washing one’s hands before they eat. Mark uses some very specific language to describe what they are doing. He says they don’t eat unless they “wash their hands properly”. That literally translates to “wash their hands with a fist (or “using a fist” or even “up to the elbow”), holding to the tradition of the elders”, which probably describing some kind of hand-washing ceremony that was decreed by human teachers, and is not in the Law of God. Think of the sign you see on the wall in a hospital or restaurant that tells you how to wash your hands – and now imagine that sign was enforced by the laws of the city.
Then Mark he goes on to say Jews “do not eat unless they wash”, – which literally means “baptize (or purify) themselves”, and has a very religious meaning. This goes for everything – cups, pots, serving dishes, everything. For them, cleanliness wasn’t next to godliness – it was godliness!
But this conversation with Jesus wasn’t merely about washing hands. Jewish religious teachers had added hundreds of religious traditions to God’s laws, which they saw as important and inviolable as God’s Law itself. Common people didn’t follow the rules as strictly as the Pharisees, which made the Pharisees look and feel morally superior. It also helped to keep them in power since anyone who challenged their rules was – by their definition – challenging God Himself!
The problem was that their moral superiority and hard-core commitment to their religion actually became a barrier between them and God. Their rules became blinders where instead of being a path to, and reminder of, their God, they became short-sighted and saw only the ritual and tradition. Their practice actually prevented them from seeing what God really wanted from them. They started with a concern for honouring and obeying God, but as they created more man-made rules, forms and functions for their religion, they began forgetting about the God they were supposed to be worshipping. This wasn’t a new problem for the Jews, but is spoken about multiple times in the Old Testament too. (Isa 1; Micah 6:6-8).
Jesus, however, disregards their oral traditions and rituals and speaks only of what is in scripture. This confused and aggravated them, because they thought that if Jesus really was sent from God, and a good, Jewish Rabbi, then He would have to follow their rules and teach it to His followers. But Jesus’ followers were clearly disregarding it! So, naturally, they had ask Him about it. Clearly Jesus hadn’t spent enough time explaining the most important things about God – like how to wash one’s hands – to His followers, and they wanted to correct Him.
As usual, Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush, but cuts to the heart of the issue. He knew that hand washing wasn’t about having clean hands. They were trying to look holy, keep up religious appearances, show how unlike the dirty gentiles they were, and trying to out-do each other and the common people in their devotion – not to God – but to their religion. And so Jesus called them “hypocrites!”
We know a hypocrite is someone that says one thing and does another, but in Greek, the word literally describes a “play-actor”. Someone who is merely pretending to be something he is not for the sake of the show. That’s exactly what these people were doing and Jesus nails them to the wall for their hypocrisy.
During His last days, before His crucifixion, Jesus sat in the Temple teaching many things. One of the most passionate teachings He gave was the “Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees”, where over and over He called them “hypocrites”.
Matthew 23 gives us an even better view of what Jesus is talking about.
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.’” (Matthew 23:1-4)
In other words, these teachers do read and speak the words of the God whenever they read the Bible – so listen to what they say – but don’t do what they do. They teach the Word, but don’t listen to it. They memorized it, but didn’t apply it. They could quote it at will and have hours of debate about it, but never listened to what they were saying. They could teach for hours on any passage, but learned nothing. They were amazing at keeping the law and the traditions, performing their religious ceremonies – bit it was all mean to impress God and everyone else with their devotion. They were play actors who looked the part, but their hearts were far from God.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:23-28)
Jesus says, “Sure, you tithe, right down to the penny! But you don’t love people – you’re a hypocrite! Sure you perform religious ceremonies, show up in public with clean hands, but you full of sin on the inside – you’re a hypocrite! Sure, you have the reputation of a solid believer, righteous before all, a pillar of the community – but God knows you are dead inside – you’re a hypocrite!”
Over and over, throughout His ministry, Jesus warned His disciples and the crowds about the dangers of thinking like a Pharisee – and Paul did too. Why did He have to warn them so often and so loudly? Because hypocrisy – pretending we are something we are not – is infectious and comes so naturally to us.
Religion can be an easy source of hypocrisy. If we check the religious boxes, we can look and sound like a good, successful, godly, happy person. But we’re sinful creatures who fail to live up to the standards of God, and often the standards we set for ourselves, so when we fail to walk the talk of our religion, it’s so much easier to fake it than to admit it and ask for help.
The Pharisees couldn’t afford to show a crack in their religious armor. They couldn’t admit that their rules were too hard. They couldn’t admit that they didn’t really understand what God wanted – so they became professional, religious, play-actors.
The Heart of the Issue
Back to Mark 7:14. Jesus gets to the heart of the issue of hypocrisy by making sure that everyone knows the truth about what it means to be clean before God – and it has nothing to do with what happens on the outside of our bodies:
“And he called the people to him again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.’ And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, ‘Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’” (Mark 7:14-23)
Jesus tells them that He is far more concerned about what is going on inside a person’s heart than what is going on with their body. Just like Jesus said of the Pharisees: A person can be like the Taj Mahal, called the Crown of Palaces, the Jewel of art in India, white marble and precious stones glittering in the sunlight for all to see and be amazed at – but inside is merely a tomb full of dead bones. Repulsive to all who can see inside.
Again, just like handwashing isn’t just about handwashing, Jesus talking about food isn’t just about food. The Pharisees accused the disciples of washing with “defiled” hands – a religious and ceremonial term speaking more about their character and relationship with God than the amount of dirt on their skin. They spoke as though the tiny bit of dirt you may have on your hands would be what created the sin inside of a person – that if you washed your hands, performed your religion, followed the rules, executed the right maneuvers, then you would be sure to keep the sin from getting inside of you.
Jesus says that thinking is all backwards. The religious actions on the outside are not what changes your heart on the inside – it is what is on the insides that gives meaning to the religious actions. Jesus isn’t against clean hands, He’s against hypocrisy and the belief that God is more interested in religious activity than personal purity. The Pharisees were amazing religionists, but terrible people.
His issue is that we need to realize where sin comes from – it comes from the inside. People do not get right with God and grow in righteousness because they perform a ceremony and live by a certain ritual – that’s where many Catholics get it completely wrong. The ceremony may have some value, but only inasmuch as it reflects what’s going in inside a heart. Going through the ceremony doesn’t fix your character or make you clean or forgiven – that requires a change of heart.
Baptism, Communion, Public prayer, church attendance, singing songs together are all godly and good only inasmuch as they are done with a heart turned towards God. That’s what God wants – a heart turned to Him. Jesus’ bottom line is that we don’t become pure by changing our actions – we need to have our insides changed first. And the only way to change our insides, know we are pure, and feel clean in God’s eyes, is when we recognize ourselves to be sinners, hate our sin, turn our hearts to God, and ask for forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ. Then Jesus, forgives us, cleanses us, renews our minds and begins the process of transforming us into His image. That inward change affects our outward behaviour.
Jesus said to his followers, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees.” (Matthew 16:5-12) because their thinking will grow invisibly among believers just like yeast grows invisibly in bread – it’s infectious. Let me ask you a few questions to see if some of their yeast has gotten into your heart. We have to keep watch, because it’s very, very sneaky.
In what ways have you elevated a manmade systems to the status of God’s Word?
Maybe it’s a diet, a favourite book or author, a financial system, a religious practice, a system of rules for living, or a tradition, but for you it’s just as important as anything God has ever said. Is there something that you have elevated to the status of scripture, even though it’s a human idea?
Have you ever rejected someone’s thinking because you didn’t like their background, training or personality style?
It doesn’t matter what they say, you’re not going to listen because they’re wearing the wrong shirt, drinking the wrong drink, hanging out with the wrong people, or using the wrong words. The Pharisees certainly did that to Jesus. They didn’t listen to Him because He wasn’t like them. No matter how much truth He spoke, they wouldn’t listen because of their pre-formed bias against Him. Let us be careful not judge by the outsides.
Do you ever perform religious ceremonies so you can feel superior to others?
You can do this by attending church services, singing songs, praying publically, or fasting. Instead of having that religious activity bring you closer to God, you use it to one-up fellow believers. You attend more, sing louder, pray longer, and fast harder than anyone! You Facebook about your devos so others will know how holy you are. Religion has value when it is done with the right heart, but not if you’re trying or impress God or others.
Do you ever try to indoctrinate people into your version of your religion, rather than trying to introduce them to Jesus?
You need to come to my church, to listen to my pastor, and read this book, and do this devotional guide, and sing this song, and pray this prayer, and give this much money… because that’s how you come to God. Or do you introduce them to Jesus and let God work on their heart?
Those are just a few ways that Pharisaical thinking can sneak into our hearts and religion can start taking over our relationship with Jesus.
The Story of Two Men
As an application, I want to close with a story. I think it will help us understand the difference between hypocritical religion and a heart turned to God:
Two men are full of anger, bitterness, and jealousy. They both hate their lot in life and grumble incessantly to anyone who will listen. They live alone now, after messing up a dozen relationships and spend most evenings and the whole of Saturday surfing for porn and defiling themselves. Their current girlfriend comes over that evening, and they fight with her until midnight, when she final has enough and leaves crying. The next day, they get in their cars to get to church. The only reason they are going is because they volunteered to do something and are the only ones who can do it. They protest and complain the entire way, thinking themselves stupid for ever getting involved with God or His church in the first place. They walk into church, see each other, shake hands, do their job, and then sit down for the beginning of the service. Thankfully, no one else bothered them.
Now consider these two options. The first man sits near the front, in his usual spot. He greets the folks around him with a big smile on his face, even prays for one of the ladies who says she’s having a rough day. The songs start and he stands up before anyone else. He closes his eyes for one of the songs, raises his hands, and starts to sway. On the next song, he’s the one that leads the clapping. When it’s offering time, he realizes he’s forgotten his chequebook, and lays a twenty on top of the envelopes, giving the usher a wink and a nod.
During the sermon, His “amen’s” are always the loudest, though after 20 minutes, he starts to check his watch, counting down the seconds until the preacher is supposed to be done. After 30 minutes the pastor is still going strong, when he lets out a bit of a cough, and tries to catch his eye – to no avail. His foot starts to tap, and he’s anxious to get to the closing song. On the way out, he lets everyone know that he wishes he could stay, but has to get going because he made some plans he can’t get out of — tells the pastor that he did great, thanks the pianist, and pats the hand of the elderly ladies who stand by the door. Everyone smiles and waves at him as he walks away – and one of the people on the Nominating Committee whispers to another, “We really need to ask that guy to be a deacon!”
The second his hand hits the steering wheel of his car he lets out a big sigh. As he leaves the parking lot, his brow furrows, his lips curl downward, and he mutters under his breath, “Great. Late again. Now I’ll never get a good seat. Stupid service is always late….”
Now let’s move to the second man. He doesn’t sit in his usual spot, but finds a place near the back – he doesn’t want to shake anyone’s hand. He feels miserable. Guilty. Ashamed. He considers leaving, but when he stands the music starts and something compels him to stay. He remains seated for the song, arms folded, his eyes fixed on the powerpoint slide – he doesn’t want to make eye contact with anyone. But he can’t help but read the words. By the second song, the knot in his stomach is really starting to hurt. The third song is one of his favourites, and he starts to quietly sing along – and the words wash over him like never before. He starts to choke up and can’t sing. He doesn’t even notice when the usher misses him with the offering plate. Unbeknownst to even him, he’s started to pray: “God, why am I such a mess? I hate feeling like this. Why am I here? I shouldn’t be singing this. Why am I stuck in this vicious cycle? I need some help.
When the sermon starts, it feels like the pastor is talking to him. At the beginning he feels exposed, as though the preacher was sitting in his house during that week, and the shame washes over him again. But as the preacher continues, He speaks of the love of God, forgiveness in Christ, hope of purity and strength. He’d been coming for months now — why hadn’t he heard this before? The man feels the break happen inside his heart – light starts to flood inside. He talks to God and says, “I want that.” That’s it. It starts with three words. “I want that.” Then two more. “I’m sorry.” Then two more. “Help me.”
The preacher begins to wrap up his talk – where did the time go! – and encourages anyone who wants to, to stay behind to talk, pray and share with God’s people. The man knows something has changed inside him because instead of wanting to bolt from his seat, he wants to know more, to listen to more. It’s like he’s hearing it for the first time.
Instead of leaving his seat at the end of service, he just sits there – he’s not even really thinking. He just doesn’t want to leave. The sanctuary starts to empty and he stands up to walk out with red eyes and a wearied expression. The preacher shakes his hand at the door, asking if everything is ok and wondering if they can get together this week. He says sure. He walks past the musicians, past the elderly ladies, past everyone on the way to the parking lot. He doesn’t return their smiles and one of the people on the Nominating Committee whispers, “What’s his problem?” He sits in his car for a full five minutes, in silence, before driving away.
Now, I ask you, which one of these people went away from church closer to God? But on the outside the first guy looked so much better, didn’t he? That’s Jesus’ point.
I’ve started a, sort of, impromptu series that I’m unofficially calling “Kick Off the New Year Right” or “How to Prepare for 2015”… or something like that. The series title doesn’t matter. What matters is that I want to spend a little while going over a few things that we need to make sure we have straight as we enter this new season of our lives.
I call it a “new season” because I’m talking about far more than merely the calendar rolling over from 2014 to 2015. As I’ve talked to people over the past months I’m sensing that there is a lot of transition going on. We see ever-increasing political tensions in Canada and around the world – the attacks in France remind us of our own, still recent, confrontation with terrorism here. There are people going through relationship transitions as the dynamics of their marriage, friendships, partnerships and even workplace change around them. Some are facing personal transitions as their body changes, their health changes, what they can do changes. Some have decisions to make that will bring a new season to their life and the lives around them.
There seems to be a feeling of flux right now in the hearts of people at this church, the community around us, our country, and our world. The ground beneath our feet is shifting, and there’s we can do nothing about it except to ensure that we are on solid ground.
Hearing and Doing
At the end of Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, where He described what life in the Kingdom of God is like –the laws, the attitudes, the character of His people, how to talk to God and live in this world – He ended it with a question and a story:
His question was: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) and it is just as sharp today as it was the day He spoke it. He contrasts the difference between hearing and doing, confession and obedience.
He’s talking about “hypocrisy: saying one thing” (“Yes, Jesus is my Lord, I got saved, I’m a Christian, I go to church, blah, blah, blah…”) but not having a life that reflects it. A “disciple”, on the other hand, is someone that calls Jesus “Lord, Lord” and then does what He says!
Think of John 15 where God is presented as the Gardener, Jesus is the Bine, and we are the branches. He says in John 15:1-2:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
God doesn’t have much interest in fruitless branches. God doesn’t care about the amount of people that call Jesus “Lord, Lord”, but cares very much about those who are producing fruit. God isn’t planting a forest. He wants an orchard.
Things to Obey
And so, Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, and then looks at the crowd – and to us – and says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”
We all struggle with this, don’t we? We pray, “Dear Lord, God…” and then disobey Him. We read a scripture, hear a sermon, feel a conviction in our heart from God, and we absolutely know that our Lord God, Creator of the Universe, has told us to do something – and we don’t do it.
- Forgive that person.
- Be reconciled to your brother or sister.
- Stop pursuing worldly gain and start looking after your spirit, your family, and your church.
- Go be a peacemaker to that troubled situation.
- Go tell those people about me. Shine your light.
- Get rid of that unrighteous anger.
- Stop lusting after people that you’re not married to.
- Stay married to your spouse and do everything you can to love them.
- Quit lying and breaking promises.
- Stop seeking revenge and let it go.
- Show love to your enemies.
- Be generous with your possessions and give to the needy.
- Read your Bible and talk to me every day.
- Take time away to rest and to fast.
- Crush the idols you have in your life.
- Stop worrying about things and trust me.
- Show humility and stop putting yourselves above others.
- Ask for things from God and expect answers.
- “Whatever you wish that others would do for you, do it to them.”[i]
- Find good teachers and get rid of the bad ones.
That’s the Sermon on the Mount in a nutshell. And at the end of that incredible list, Jesus asks us to evaluate our hearing and our doing, our confession and our obedience, our talk and our walk. He wants us to check to see if they line up. Why?
- Because of the shifting ground under our feet.
- Because of the uncertainty of this life.
- Because of the liars and cheats that want to manipulate us.
- Because of the charlatans who pretend to love us but don’t.
- Because of the we are faced with huge decisions all the time and we need divine wisdom to know what to do.
- Because we are confronted with pain and sorrow that is beyond our ability to handle.
- Because the temptations of this world are immense.
- Because our enemy, the devil, is smarter than us and is prowling around like a lion seeking whom he may devour.[ii]
- Because without listening to Jesus and doing what He says, we are going to make terrible mistakes that hurt us and those around us.
Jesus asks the question and then tells this story:
“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”
I want to point out a couple of things about the builders.
First: Notice that both of them hear the message. One “hears… and does” while the other “hears and does not”. We’re not talking about people who have not heard the message of the Gospel and the teachings of scripture. Jesus is talking about people who have heard what God wants and expects from them, but doesn’t do it.
Now, that’s a bit of a misstatement. It’s not that this person does nothing, right? That’s the second thing: both of them build. In the story, the house represents the person’s life. Everyone builds a life. Both builders are placed in the world, both get contracts to build a house, and both are given all the materials they need to build a good house. Both builders use their skills and abilities to design their house with what they’ve been given. When they stand back and look at it, like any builder, there are things they like about it, and things they wished they had done differently. But it’s their house that they built.
We’re all given the materials to have a Godly life. Sure, each of us are given a little different pile. Some have more decorations than others, while some have stronger frames. Some have incredibly detailed blueprints, while others have more flexibility in the plans. There are differences, but the pile of materials from which we build our lives are remarkably similar. And, of course, we’re all given the same scriptures, the same Saviour, and have access equal access to God and all the good gifts He is willing to give.
But then we get to the third thing about the builders: They both build near the stream. Sometimes we think that one built next to a floodplain while the other built far away. No, in the story, these two people are neighbours. Just like we all are in this world. We are growing up together, in the same environment, facing similar issues.
Yes, we all have our own unique takes on them – some of us have physical advantages, others are smarter, some are wealthier, some are more prone to addiction or anger, while others had troubles growing up that they still carry with them. We all have our own things that make us us, and God has gifted each one of us with a special purpose and the equipment to carry out that mission, but we are all living next to the same stream.
We’re all in this world, and when it gets boiled down, we are all facing similar issues. We all live by the same stream. We all face temptation, loss, fear, grief, and pain. We all deal with the effects of sin inside and outside us. You might feel alone, like you’re the only one dealing with that particular issue, but that is a demonic lie meant to keep you feeling hopeless. I promise you that you are not alone and that there are people out there who are dealing with the same problems and challenges as you. That’s one of the beauties of being in the church.
And that leads us to the next similarity between the builders: both experienced a flood. In this story, the flood represents a couple things: first, the troubles of this world that come to us all the time, and second, our death and the final judgement before God. In other words, immediate consequences and eternal consequences.
The ones that listen to Jesus, and do what He says when He says it, have security and peace during the trials and troubles of this life. And then, when they die they have eternal security that they are ultimately saved forever.
But the ones that listen to Jesus, and don’t do what He says, have insecurity and lack of peace when the trials and troubles come into this life. And ultimately, at the end, they will not have eternal security because they never did give their lives to Jesus.
I’ve said before that scripture teaches – in fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, it’s what Jesus says right before he tells the story of the two builders – that there will be many in the end that cry out “Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”, and Jesus will turn to them and say, “I never knew you; depart from me.”[iii]
The story of the two builders is told as a warning to these people who act religious, act like Christians, use Christian language, claim to be believers, but don’t do what Jesus says, and who, in the end, will end up in hell. The do themselves a disservice in this life by not following Him, and a greater one in the afterlife.
We can put it off, ignore it, pretend it’s not going to happen, distract ourselves, and live in denial as much as we want, but Jesus says very clearly that “the flood” is not an “if” but a “when”. Temptations and pain will come to you in this life… it’s a foregone conclusion. And we are all going to die (if Jesus doesn’t come back first) and then we will all face the Judgement Seat of Christ.[iv]
Jesus’ question is, “What’s the point of calling me Lord Lord and pretending to be a Christian, if you’re not going to obey what I say you’re supposed to do? That won’t help you now and it won’t help you later. Call me Lord Lord, and then do what I say, and then you will get the benefits of what I’m trying to give you!”
There’s only one difference between the two builders. One dug deep and built on the rock. He did the work. He put it into practice. It took time and effort to dig a hole the size of a house in the sandy land by the stream, until he hit bedrock.
He had to put off building his house. He didn’t get to do the fun stuff first. He had to do the arduous task of digging down, and down, and down, until he found the solid bedrock near that stream that he would build on. And then he had to carry stone after stone, shovelful after shovel full of fill as he filled it up again so he could build the house.
We’re going to have the same problem. It’s not that getting saved and starting a relationship with Jesus is hard. It requires nothing more than admitting you are a sinner in need of a Saviour, asking forgiveness, and then saying that Jesus is now your “Lord, Lord”. But from that point on, when you’ve decided to build your life on Him, it’s going to take time and effort and work.
You may have to put things off for a time (or forever) – like career advancement, relationships, certain things you find pleasure in – so you can dig down to Christ, removing all the shifting sand beneath your feet that will cause problems for your house later.
It will mean emptying yourself of your favourite idols, believing you’re in charge of your life, submitting yourself to Jesus and other mature Christians, and getting rid of the stuff in your house that distracts you from Christ. I remember as a college student destroying over a hundred CD’s in my music collection because – at the time – they were a stumbling block between me and Jesus. And that was just one thing that had to go – there have been many more since.
Digging down and placing your whole life on the bedrock takes work. It means rearranging your schedule so you can pray, read scripture, attend church each week, and have a Sabbath rest. It means changing your priorities with your finances so you can give a portion of your finances back to God and live a generous lifestyle toward others in need. And it’s hard.
Each shovelful of sand that you remove hurts a little. There goes my pride. There goes my selfishness. There goes my Sundays. There goes my mornings. There goes my favourite addiction. There goes my internet privileges. There goes my favourite hatred and bitterness. There goes my movie collection. There goes my career plans. There goes my marriage plans. There goes my divorce plans. There goes my belief that I’m number one. There goes my belief that it’s all about me.
We empty the hole and dig down deeper and deeper to the bedrock of Jesus Christ. And then we start to fill it back up again, stone after stone, replacing our thoughts with His thoughts, our ways with His ways, our heart with His heart, our will with His will, our habits with His habits, our words with His words, our plans with His plans, until we have built a solid foundation on Him and how He wants us to live.
And it is on this foundation that we build out house. And then when the rains come down and the floods come up, and the stream grows into a river – our house will stand. Not because of anything we’ve done – but because of who we’ve chosen to build on. We don’t get the glory for a house that stands up to the flood, Jesus does!
He’s the foundation. He’s the one who gave us the stones. He’s the one who stays strong. That’s why we build on Him and His Word.
We wonder about all the uncertainty and shifting sand of this world. We are troubled by all the things we can’t control. We know the rains and the flood are coming, but are we willing to believe Jesus when He says that He is the only foundation to stand on when they do?
[i] Matt 7:12
[ii] 1 Peter 5:8
[iii] Matthew 7:21-23
[iv] 2 Corinthians 5:10
After being challenged by the elders to study and pray about Pastoral Prayers I have decided to write and give a new prayer each week during the church service. I’ve thought a lot about posting them here and have decided to do so in hopes that people will experience a new way to pray and be encouraged through them. Feel free to use them privately or in your church’s worship time. This prayer is from July 7, 2013.
“[We] will praise you forever for what you have done;
in your name [we] will hope, for your name is good.
[We] will praise you in the presence of the saints.” (Ps 52:9)
It is our desire to praise you Lord, because you are so worthy of our praise.
We worship you and give you glory for what you have done:
the majesty of your creation,
the plan of salvation,
the furtherance of your kingdom,
the hope that is within us,
the rebirth of our souls,
and the revival we have seen in our lives.
And we worship you and give you glory for who You are:
If you had done nothing, your glory alone would be cause for us fall down before you.
Your very nature makes you worthy of our songs.
You are good,
Accept our praise today.
We confess that we have been hypocrites this week.
We have said one thing and done another.
We have proclaimed to be Christians and acted like pagans.
We have been like the teachers of the law and the Pharisees (Matthew 23) who were bad examples to others and did not practice what they preached.
We have done things for the glory of men,
wanting their acceptance and approval above yours.
We have been greedy
willfully walking towards temptation
and jumping head-long into it.
We have strained out gnats and swallowed camels as we have messed up our priorities, neglecting the more important matters of our faith –
– and focused on less important matters
like getting our tithes right to the penny,
reading our bibles for the right amount of minutes,
and saying just enough prayers to abate our conscience.
Forgive us for inverting our priorities and grieving your spirit within us.
Forgive us again this week Lord.
We repent of our sin again, and as you to increase our desire to obey you.
We trust in your word, in your Holy Scriptures, that teach us that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
We fall on that mercy today,
on the shed blood of Christ,
on your abundant grace.
Not presuming upon it, but trusting in it.
Accept our confession and repentance.
Create in us a clean heart.
Renew a steadfast spirit within us.
Restore the joy of your salvation.
And grant us a willing spirit to sustain us. (Psalm 51)
We pray for those in authority over us as you have commanded us to.
We pray for the Federal, Provincial and Civil government leaders in our country and around the world who have been given power,
to make decisions that affect so many people.
Grant them wisdom and humility.
We pray for the persecuted church around the world who are being mistreated
because of their unwavering faith in you.
Help them be a good example to all of us,
to remain strong in the faith,
and to trust in you for their deliverance
– either here, or in eternity.
We pray for the Christian community of Beckwith, Montague, Tay Valley, Mississippi Mills, Carleton Place, Lanark, Lanark Highlands, Drummond/North Elmsly, Smith’s Falls, Perth, Delta, Athens, Brockville, Arnprior, Renfrew, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and the US.
Help them to be passionate in worship,
strong in fellowship,
disciplined in study,
effective in prayer,
full of miracles,
and to grow in number and in faith.
We pray this in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen