23rd Sunday After Trinity November 2, 1997
For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.
In the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, the way, the truth, and the life for all who trust in Him, dear Christian friends, dear fellow redeemed.
When people take the time to contemplate their existence and examine their purpose on this earth, they often come up with more questions than answers. They want to determine the meaning of life. They’re searching for inner peace, connection with the Almighty, even life after death. But they look in all the wrong places. On what do people base their existence? That they are some highly developed animal, whose only purpose is to live this life on earth? Do they live with the hope of accomplishing enough good to satisfy the Creator, so that if there’s a heaven, they can earn their own place. That is certainly not what the Bible teaches. But it is the natural belief and philosophy of so many people. They either follow the motto of evolution. Or they follow the man-made religion of good works. If it weren’t for the constant influence of our God, we too would invariably follow a similar philosophy.
Biblical Christianity goes against the grain of human nature, that’s for sure. So why do we believe it? Why do we stake our future on the story of Christ? There are many reasons to explain our conviction. The unconditional love God which reveals through His Son. The power of the Spirit that works on the heart of believers. You have to remember that Christian faith is not an intellectual exercise. It’s a matter of trust. You trust a Person that you cannot see. You trust in the work this Person did, work which you cannot prove. You count on what the Savior did to work in your behalf. Christian faith is really an impossible belief for humans to produce on their own. And yet it happens. Jesus has become the Foundation of your existence. Jesus has become the Bedrock in your life. We explore this truth in the message of our text.
We’re all familiar with the subject of doubt. The scientist doubts what is supernatural. If people follow the religion of good works, they end up doubting whether they have done enough to pass the judgment. So what about the Christian? What about his trust that Jesus makes him right with God? He may have doubts too, but the doubts are never the fault of the Savior. He spoke the truth. He did His Father’s will. He paid the price of all sin. He carried out the perfect rescue operation. He laid a foundation for you and me to stand on. The foundation will never crumble, like all the other beliefs that people have invented for themselves. That’s the difference between human religion and Biblical Christianity. One is made by sinful man, and the other is made by the perfect God. We can look to Jesus as the Bedrock in your life, because He anchors your heart on His Word.
But it wasn’t easy. God had to do a total overhaul when He turned us into believers. The Lord explains the reason why in the opening verses of our text: “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.” The Lord uses an example from the world of plants to illustrate a truth about ourselves. What we do on the outside reveals what we are on the inside. Jesus said in v. 45, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” We have to examine our own fruit—our own deeds and our own words. Are we speaking and doing only that which is good?
That’s a pretty general question. Let’s make it more specific. Do we spend each day making God’s commandments the all-important rules that we follow? Do we pray without ceasing, like God tells us to do? Do we focus on His Word as the most important message we could hear? How about the way we treat other people? Do we defend them when others gossip or unjustly criticize their reputation? Do we gossip ourselves? Do we show favoritism? Do we ignore the needs of other people? It doesn’t take much to see that there is bad fruit in our life too. We cannot deny the sins that we have done, nor can we rate them as a lower form of sin than other kinds of evil. All sin is evil in the eyes of God.
Our pride will make it hard to do, but we need to trace the sin all the way back to its source. We bear the bad fruit in our life because our heart is bad. We commit sins of word and deed, because our mind and our emotions are governed by sin. We have a sinful nature that is utterly and thoroughly corrupt. The heart of every single one of us is totally ruined and spoiled by sin, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. On the basis of the first three verses of this text, we cannot deceive ourselves into thinking that we are the good people, while others have a problem with being evil. The Savior makes us realize that we are sinners who need Him to change us from the inside out. Only God can change the heart through the power of His Word.
First He applies the painful diagnosis of the Law. God’s Law is like an x-ray or a Cat-scan. It looks us over thoroughly and pinpoints what is wrong. The Law identifies all of our sins, declares us guilty and condemned before God, but after that it can do nothing to eliminate the problem. So God brings in the power of the Gospel. The Gospel is the medicine which cures us of our illness. The Gospel shows you Jesus as the one who paid for your sin and took it all away. The Gospel shows you a loving God who sacrificed His Son so that you could be forgiven. The Gospel heals your heart by relieving your guilt, removing your doubts, and granting you the trust to cling to Christ as your Savior from sin, death, and hell.
It’s a pretty radical thing that Jesus does through His Word. When faced with Law and Gospel, we encounter statements of truth that we cannot swallow. We can’t take the medicine that God has given. It doesn’t taste good to our human nature. So God must do the extra step and use His Word to perform a miracle. The Word sinks into a dead, sinful, unbelieving heart and turns it into a living, godly, believing heart of Christian faith. God gives us the conviction to accept what is so unbelievable. God gives us the trust to depend on the work of this Substitute who took our place. We depend on Jesus only because God gives us the faith to do it.
Let’s be sure to thank God for this gift. When you have Jesus as your inner foundation, the Bedrock in your heart, you get a new lease on life, a new perspective, a better way to approach the rest of your time on earth. Think about it. Instead of trying to bury all the guilt, you can let it go. You can throw it away, because God has thrown it away. When God forgave your sin, it was a permanent verdict of “not guilty.” You don’t have to dread His judgment. God won’t the judge the person that He declares innocent of sin. When you know the peace of God’s forgiveness, you also realize that He is there to be the real power in your life. He gives your life direction through the guidance of His Word. He promises to hear and answer your prayers. He pledges to be your safety-net in time of trouble and distress. And He gives you the ultimate promise that the Best is yet to come. Our life on earth, He says, will carry over into a better life in heaven.
Now that’s a great perspective to have. When Jesus anchors your heart on His Word, you have a way to deal with stress. You have an absolute way to determine right and wrong. You have a relationship with the greatest Friend there is. And your life has a final destination that’s worth all the time that it takes to get there. This Christian perspective is more than the power of positive thinking. It becomes the foundation for words and actions. After all, when Jesus is the Bedrock in your life, He leads you to produce good fruit instead of bad.
People get the mistaken idea that the Gospel, that Christianity is some kind of license—an excuse to sin at will. If this idea were actually the attitude we had, it would be a terrible abuse of the Lord’s grace and goodness. It would also be a sure sign that we did not actually believe, for you see, a Christian cannot take the forgiveness won by Christ and turn it into a license to sin. Paul says in Romans, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
When God gives you a heart of faith, it’s a heart that wants to please God. That’s the way faith is. It’s the exact opposite of our sinful nature. Our sinful nature wants to do evil. Our faith, on the other hand, our believing nature wants to do good. Our sinful nature wants to rebel. But our Christian nature wants to serve the God who saved us. Jesus speaks to your faith, and it responds with loyalty. How else could it possibly be? When you know the tremendous sacrifice and the supreme effort that Jesus made to overturn your sin and set you free from the curse it brought upon you, how can you go running back to the shackles of a sinful life? When God plants faith in your heart, your faith will treasure God’s forgiveness and use it as a springboard to move in a different direction. Our Savior’s love for us will move us to love our Savior in return. And of course, we show this love by doing what our Savior wants.
We can’t overlook what Jesus says in Luke. “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” That word “Lord” means master, a person who rules over us, who can tell us what to do and expect our obedience. Our faith recognizes Jesus as a good master, a gracious Lord that we follow in willing submission. We also recognize that our sinful nature gets in the way and leads us off course. We need the Lord’s help to keep us on track. So He gives us the benefit of the Holy Spirit. Jesus talks about the man who hears His Word and does it. We could never do what the Word says if it weren’t for the Spirit within. He helps us to conform our life to the teachings of Scripture. He focuses our attention on the sacrifice Jesus made and uses that sacrifice as a powerful source of motivation. Jesus wants us to bear good fruit. Our faith wants to bear good fruit. Through the power of the Spirit granted to us by Christ, the desire actually becomes reality. So the words of Christ hold true for every believer: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
Gratitude compels us to give credit where credit is due. We’re nothing without the influence of Christ. He is the ground which holds us up. He is the solid foundation, not only for our faith but also for the fruits of faith which spring forth in our words and actions. He is the Bedrock of our life all the way to the end, for we also confess that Jesus preserves our life even after death.
Though He does not use the actual word, Christ talks about death in our text. He says, “Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.” Jesus uses a figure of speech to describe the course of a Christian’s life. The foundation of his faith is on the rock of Jesus Christ. And the “flood” which strikes against him is the same overwhelming flood that we all face. It’s the certainty of death.
Death has the potential to sweep us away. There’s nothing we can do to stop it from happening. When death approaches, it takes us as we are. It takes us to face the judgment seat of God. At the moment of death, the Lord will examine our righteousness. If we try to offer the righteousness of our own good works, the Lord will reject us. On the other hand, if we cling to the righteousness of Christ, which is given as a free gift, God will surely accept us because of His Son. So even in death the Lord Jesus continues to be the Bedrock of our life. He gives us the salvation that we need to pass the final judgment. If we die with faith in Him, our soul lives on in the presence of God and our bodies will rise again to live the perfect life that does not end.
You need Jesus when the time comes to meet your Maker. When the flood of death strikes against you, the Savior is the bedrock which keeps your house standing. Your faith depends on the certainty of what He did. He died for all of your sin. He took it all away. He gives you His perfect righteousness to cover up your lack of righteousness. Focus your sights on Him, and the faith will be there, because He will make it happen. In our journey as Christians, we must first look to the end and be ready for the final exit from this earth. Once we know how to die, then we are ready to live. With Jesus as the Bedrock in your life, your heart is anchored on the solid ground of His Word. Your life will bear the good fruits of faith, produced by the power of the Spirit. Your life on this earth will weather the storm of death and continue beyond the grave. That’s a great way to live on this earth and the only way to live forever in heaven. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.