A house on a rock 

 

I'd like us to focus our minds upon that parable of the two builders, at the end of Lk. 6. Have a look at v.46: " Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" In Matthew's account of this same parable, we read that at judgment day, " Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord...then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me" (Mt. 7:22,23). From this we can conclude that our attitude to Christ in this life (e.g. " Lord, Lord!" ) will be our attitude to Him at the judgment seat. If we think He is a hard, unreasonable Lord: that is how He will be. To the froward (in this life), He will shew Himself froward. Straight away we are met head on with a major challenge: Our attitude to Christ in this life will be our attitude to Him at the judgment seat. John's letters reason down the same line: " If (in this life) our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence (now) toward God...this is the confidence that we have in him... abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence...before him (at the judgment) at His coming" (1 Jn. 3:21; 5:14; 2:28). The confidence we have towards Christ now will be the confidence we have at judgment day. This fact should pull us up out of the spiritual indifference which characterizes so much of our lives. If we see Christ as an abstract theological necessity, a black box in our brain called 'Christ'; if we don't have a dynamic, two‑ way relationship with Him now‑ then this too is how we will regard Him then.

Our Attitude To Christ

The parable of the builders is fundamentally about our attitude to the Lord. There is good reason to think it mainly concerns the attitude of the responsible; these words of Jesus are set against the background of v.27: " I say unto you which hear" . The rest of the chapter seems to be addressed primarily to the disciples‑ e.g. v.41,42 speak of them beholding the mote in their brother's eye; warning surely more relevant to believing disciples than to the world generally. The parable of the builders likewise refers to those within the ecclesia, who know Christ as their Lord: " Lord, Lord" , they say. Among this class of people there would be " many" (Mt. 7:21‑ 23) who would hear Christ's sayings, but not do them. The Lord alludes to the builder parable in Jn. 13:13,17. There He says to the disciples, " Ye call me Master and Lord (cp. " Why call ye me Lord...?" ) ...if ye know these things (cp. " he that heareth my sayings" ), happy are ye if ye do them" ‑ instead of bickering among themselves, as they were doing then (and studiously avoiding the opportunity which they had of fellowshipping the sufferings of Christ). Further evidence that Christ was directing His parable to the disciples is found in v.47: " Whosoever cometh to me..." . Time and again the disciples are described as coming to Jesus‑ on 12 separate occasions in Matthew's Gospel alone. The Lord continued: " Whosoever cometh to me and heareth my sayings" . It is the disciples who are often described as hearing Christ's words (Mt. 10:27; 11:4; 13:16,18; 15:10; 17:5; 21:33). 

I'm obviously labouring this point, that the builders in the parable are those within the ecclesia, or at best the responsible. This is because the parallel record in Mt. 7 is rather unpleasant to apply to the ecclesia; it says that " many" of us will be in the category who say " Lord, Lord" , and whose house will be destroyed. The Greek for " many" can imply 'the majority'. Even the majority of those who hear Christ's words simply don't do them. Now that's an uncomfortable statistic for us who sit before the bread and wine each week, seeking to hear Christ's words and do them. This parable was spoken in the context of crowds of the ecclesia of Israel coming to Christ, hearing His words, and doing sweet nothing about it. Such an attitude is not building a house on a rock.

So then, how do we hear and do? We are helped to get the answer by considering how Christ elsewhere appealed to people to " Hear and understand" (Mt. 15:10). Truly understanding is related to action, 'doing'. In the parable, hearing and doing is like the hard work of digging the foundation on a rock. This is how hard it is to truly understand the words of Christ. Remember how the one talent man also dug into the earth (Mt. 25:18). He did some digging, he did some work. But he failed to truly understand. The very physical action of digging deceived him into thinking he had done enough, as the physical action of building deceived the man who built on earth. Of course we are progressing somewhere spiritually, as we live day by day. But our movement can deceive us.  

Hard Labour

The figure of building a house on a rock conjures up the idea of sweating labour. Do we feel that we are spiritually sweating, in a sense? Is it that hard to understand and therefore do the words of Christ? A number of passages make this connection between labouring  and understanding the word. Elders labour in the word (1 Tim. 5:17), as the prophets laboured in writing the word of God (Jn. 4:38); and the true Bible student is a labourer who will not be ashamed of his work at the end (2 Tim .2:15). And the Lord Jesus spoke of us labouring for the manna of God's words, even harder than we labour for our daily bread, and more earnestly than the crowds ran around the lake of Galilee in the blazing midday sun in order to benefit from Christ's miracles (Jn. 6:27). One could be forgiven for thinking that most of us find hearing the words of Christ easy. But there is an element of difficulty, even unpleasantness for us, in truly understanding Him in practical application.  

In the parable, the flood which came was like the day of judgment. This fits in exactly with the way Christ used the figure of the flood to describe His second coming in Mt. 24. Peter does the same in 2 Pet. 3. The beating of the stream upon the house on a rock (v.49) is a truly apposite figure for the day of judgment. It certainly implies a process of judgment, in which the unworthy will experience a gradual collapse of their spirituality. For the man with the firm foundation, the flood of the parable would have been a worrying experience. Would the house stand up to it? In many of the parables, we can profitably speculate as to likely details of the story. The wise man would have remembered his hard work on the foundation, not with any sense of pride or self‑ gratitude. But he would nevertheless have been aware of it. Our real spiritual effort will be so valuable in that day. Only then will we realize the extent of the fact that there can be no short cut to true spiritual development. A man cannot be crowned, unless he strive lawfully.  The Lord's parable was no doubt partly based on Is. 28:17, which speaks of the day of judgment being like hail which " shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters (which) shall overflow" . The spiritual house of the foolish builder was a lie, effectively; an appearance of real development which deceived men. For externally, men cannot know anything about the different foundations of houses built side by side. We are left to imagine the details of the parable. The foolish man would have run outside and watched his house being beaten down and washed away. He would have thought of trying to do something to stop the destruction, but then given up, realizing it was too late. The foolish girls saw that " our oil is running out" (Gk.). The unworthy will have that terrible sense of their opportunity and spirituality ebbing away from them. The impression is given in the parable that the two houses were next door to each other; again confirming our feeling that this parable is about different attitudes to the word within the ecclesia. 

To get down to the rock, the man who truly heard Christ had to dig through the earth which the foolish man also dug into. Hearing Christ's words is likened to digging into that earth. Doing and understanding them is likened to then digging into the bed‑ rock. The foolish man did allow the word to go into him‑ skin deep. We need to ask ourselves how often these days the word really goes right through our skin, and forces us to hack into the bed‑ rock. Are we truly building our house on a rock? The force of Mk. 16:16, for example, went more than skin deep just before our baptism. We read it, thought about it, and did it. But now. Are we old and brave, thick skinned, hardened by the humdrum of repetition, no longer building a house on a rock? My sense is that many of us are. Let's be aware that Heb. 6:1,2 defines " the foundation" as " repentance" , and an awareness of the reality of the resurrection and coming judgment. In some ways, the longer we are in Christ, the more likely it is that we will not reach down to the bedrock of these things as we ought to. I mean, how often these days do we really repent of something? How often does the reality of the judgment seat truly come home to us? The poetry of the Bible's language, especially if we read the same version, makes God's word glide over us. Exhortations, even the recollection of Golgotha's tragic scene, the final, friendless end... can all slip so easily over our heads. We rest on the laurels of past spiritual victories. Nothing really shakes us up, reaching right down to the bedrock. Surely each of us should be sensing a surge of spiritual urgency when we look at ourselves like this. Yet God will help us; it is He Himself who will " settle" us, or 'make a foundation for' us, as the Greek can mean (1 Pet. 5:10). 

" That rock was Christ"

The rock which our response to the word must reach down to is that of the crucified Christ. That rock represents Christ and Him crucified, according to Paul (1 Cor. 10:4 and 3:11 cp. 2:2). The Lord's parable of building on the rock was surely quarried from His understanding of Is. 28:16,17: " I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone...a precious cornerstone. The hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place" . Truly doing God's word will always lead us back to the spirit of the suffering Christ on Calvary. If it does not, our building, our apparent development within the much-vaunted biblicism of our faith, is just a " refuge of lies" . All our spiritual effort and suffering finds its ultimate summation in Christ's crucifixion. His suffering there is the quintessence of all spiritual struggle.  It is quite possible that as we break bread weekly, we are merely digging a little deeper than usual in the earth, yet still not reaching down to the real meaning of building on the example of Christ's death. The wise man's house was " founded upon a rock" . The same Greek word occurs in Col. 2:7, describing how we are " rooted and built up in him" . The parallel Eph. 3:17 expands this to mean that if Christ dwells in our hearts, we are " rooted and grounded in love...able to comprehend...and to know the love of Christ" , which was supremely shown in His death. Col. 1:23 associates this being " grounded and settled" with not being " moved away from the hope of the Gospel, which ye have heard" . If the word really sinks down deep within us, it will reveal to us the love of Christ on the cross, it will result in true love, and all this will be the outworking of the basic doctrines of the Truth which we understood at baptism. Thus the hacking away at the rock is not only hard, grim work against human nature. It reveals the wondrous love of Christ. The implication is that we can only really understand this love, that passes human knowledge, if we are really sweating away to obey Christ's words, to build our house on a rock.