Sermon preached on Luke 6:43-49 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/24/2021 in Novato, CA.
Today we conclude working through the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. In this conclusion to Jesus’ memorable sermon, we are pointed to the need to follow Jesus and actually heed his word. This is a fitting follow-up from last week’s passage where we saw him speaking against would-be religious teachers who were really just blind guides. Unlike the scribes and the Pharisees of the day, Jesus could lead the people in the light of truth that they and us so desperately need. Yet, as we conclude this sermon, we are also reminded here that the kind of following Jesus’ calls his disciples to is one that comes from the heart. True disciples of Christ will follow Jesus from the heart. Let us then dig into today’s passage.
Let us begin by looking at verses 46-49. There we find Jesus asking a question to those who would call him Lord but not actually obey him as Lord. He asks them why they would do that, and surely it is meant rhetorically. But he uses that to expose the inherent contradiction to someone who claims Jesus as Lord but doesn’t actually look to obey Jesus. You might call Jesus Lord, but if you don’t look to obey him, you aren’t actually acting like he is your lord.
Jesus then gives a parable to illustrate the ramifications of this. This is Jesus’ classic parable of building your house on the rock or not. Verses 47-48 gives the part of the parable that speaks of building a firm foundation on the rock. Verse 49 gives the part that speaks of not building such a firm foundation. Let’s walk through both. In verse 47 Jesus speaks about those people who come to him, hear his words, his teachings, and then does what Jesus says to do. He’s describing those disciples of Jesus who are actually looking to heed what Jesus says. This is what all disciples of Christ should be doing. So then in verse 48 he gives the analogy that those people are like the people who build a house but they dig deep until they get to solid rock, and they build a foundation first on that solid rock. That way, should a flood arise, should a huge storm come, their house will be safe and secure because it is built upon the solid rock. As it says, such a house is well built. Jesus says if you actually do what Jesus says to do, then you will be like the one who doesn’t just build a house, but builds a well-built house.
In contrast, Jesus says in verse 48 that there is the disciple who hears Jesus, who listens to his words, to his teachings, but doesn’t look to do what Jesus says to do. Jesus’ words are heard but ultimately ignored. Jesus’ words fall on deaf ears for such a disciple. That person is a disciple in name only, because he is not really learning anything from Jesus. Jesus’ words are not just for some academic knowledge that he wants you to have. They are supposed to be affecting you. They are to correct you where you need to be corrected. They are to direct you and guide you on how to live, think, and speak. So, Jesus’ parable about such a person in verse 48 is that he’s like someone who doesn’t build a foundation for their house. This is a helpful complement to Matthew’s account of this imagery. Matthew reports Jesus speaking of one who build on the sand. But here Jesus is recorded as describing someone who doesn’t dig deep until he gets to the rock. He just doesn’t build any real foundation at all. He just builds on the top of the ground. This is not a well-built house, because as Jesus says, when the storm eventually comes, when a stream of a flood arrives, the house will immediately make it fall down. And it says that the house will be in great ruin. It will be disastrous when the storm comes if the house is not well-built by being built upon a proper foundation. Jesus says if you only hear his words, but don’t actually heed them, then you are like such a foolish person who invests all that money into a house only to lose it all because you didn’t put in a foundation for it.
Note in this parable that it is the storm that tests the house. The storm will show whether a house is well-built or not, if it is well-founded against such perils. In the parable, that a storm will eventually come is assumed. When it finally does, that will test the house. It will either prove it to be sturdy, or it will prove it to be faulty. The storm will test and prove it when it comes. And indeed, as we apply the parable, the storms will ultimately come. There are storms in this life that will test someone’s spiritual foundation. Such a person who is not truly built on Jesus’ word will find themselves come crashing down. And the ultimate storm will come on the day of judgment. I think of how in Matthew’s parallel Sermon on the Mount, in 7:21, he speaks of how at the end, at the day of judgment, there will be people who call Jesus, “Lord, Lord”, and that Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” There is coming a storm that will test every man. If not in this life, then at the end.
I do think we should notice the interesting nuance here by Jesus. When we think of our foundation as Christians, we would likely say our foundation is Jesus. That would be an accurate answer. It would also be compatible with this passage, but notice that Jesus speaks in slightly different terms. When he commends this foundation of a rock here, he doesn’t put it in terms of himself, but of his words. Specifically, he puts it in terms of whether you do what his words say. Now, there isn’t a fundamental difference here. Having Jesus as your foundation is bound up intimately with his words. To have Jesus as your foundation is to have his words, his teaching, his doctrine as your foundation. But it is nuance that we find by Jesus at points that we should acknowledge and take in. Like in the Great Commission, it says that the church is not just to enlist new disciples of Christ but then teach those disciples to observe all that he has commanded us. He doesn’t say to just teach them what those commands are. He says to teach them to observe those commands.
So then, Jesus makes the distinction here between just hearing his words and actually doing them. We find that same point by James in James 1:22. There James says to be doers of the word and not mere hearers, because otherwise you deceive yourself. To be sure, this is not advocating a works-based righteousness. In fact, the most important words of Jesus’ teaching is that gospel message which says we can’t save ourselves – that is impossible – that we need to come in faith to Christ and trust in his sacrifice to cover our sin. But if we don’t heed that word by turning in faith to Jesus, then surely we will not know the gift of salvation, even though we might have academically learned the content of the gospel message. Likewise, Jesus teaches us many other things that if we don’t employ them, we will certainly not enjoy the benefits that is held out in his teaching. If we don’t show the love toward others that he commends and we end up having troubled relationships, should we be surprised? We can imagine even how someone could do the basics of Jesus’ words in terms of the gospel response, but fail to implement other important teachings of Jesus. They might be saved, yet still heap lots of troubles upon themselves unnecessarily because they didn’t head Jesus.
I’d like to turn now in our second point to consider verses 43-45 and this teaching about a tree being known by its fruit. I reversed the order in our passage to help us make an important connection. Why it is some people hear Jesus and obey him, and other people hear him and disregard him? Well, this section about a tree being known by its fruit tells us. Jesus uses an analogy about trees and fruit to help us think about the state of someone’s heart.
He begins in verse 43 with some affirmations that should be self-evident. Basically, he points out that trees bear fruit according to their kind. Good trees bear good fruit. Bad trees bear bad fruit. Fig trees bear figs. Grape vines bear grapes. But thornbushes never bear figs. Bramble bushes never bear grapes. These are self-evident statements from nature.
But notice the application. He’s applying it to human hearts. When we look at someone who is a good person, as in they live a godly life, why is that? Well, as verse 45 says, it is because their good actions flow from the good treasure of their heart. In contrast, why does the bad person live badly? Why do they live a godless, wicked life? Jesus says it is because they are acting out of the evil treasure that is in their heart. In other words, our works flow from the state of our hearts. How we live reflects the state of our souls. This might seem obvious, but in practice people can sometimes reverse the order. For example, Jesus at a point had to confront the Pharisees who acted like what would make someone’s heart unclean is by what they did or didn’t eat. But he said someone’s uncleanness comes from an unclean heart not because they ate something unclean which then made their heart unclean. Likewise, we might mistakenly think that someone becomes a good person by doing good things or someone becomes a bad person by doing bad things. But Jesus says it is the opposite. Someone who is a bad person will show that by their doing the bad things. And a good person will show it by doing their good things. But the actions are a fruit of their hearts, not a cause to make their hearts something.
In practical terms, this idea is often applied to counseling someone for some sinful behavior. We have to make sure that we get to the heart of the matter. It’s the analogy of the smoke versus fire. Often what is seen in terms of someone’s sin is essentially the smoke. But what is causing the smoke is some underlying fire, which refers to what is actually the state of their heart that is resulting in them doing the sinful things that they are doing. For example, a classic example is when someone gives up drinking only to take up smoking. That can happen if you don’t deal with the underlying reason in your heart that led you to drink in the first place, and so you just exchange one controlling substance addition for another. In practical terms, you need to get to heart of a matter and deal with it there at the core or root of the issue. From a counseling standpoint, this can be very practical and helpful.
And yet, when we think of this merely in practical terms, we can miss the ultimate point here. The theological point is to understand that the condition or state of man’s heart is ultimately bad. Apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, humans are what we call totally depraved. That is not to say that everybody just lies, steals, and cheats all day. But it is to say that we are sinful, fallen creatures at our core, with a disposition towards serving ourselves instead of God and toward making decisions based on what seems right in our own eyes instead of what God says is right in his eyes. In such a fallen state, people do not ultimately do what they do for the glory of God, and thus their actions are ultimately sinful, even if they do things that are outwardly in keeping with the law of God. To say it in the terms of this parable, the unregenerate human is a bad tree and so it will produce bad fruit.
This is why Jesus elsewhere says that a man must be born again in order to be saved. When the Holy Spirit works new birth in someone, God gives them eyes to see their sin and rebellion against God. God gives them a heart that wants to turn from that sin unto God. God renews their wills so they begin to live a changed life. This new birth is the beginning of a renewed heart. Yet in this life, the born-again Christian will still battle with that old man, that bad tree that still lingers inside them. But he also has this beginning of a new seed, a good tree, being grown from them. We can begin to bear good fruit out of the new heart that Jesus gives us.
Let’s turn them in our final point to tie our first two points together. In our first point, we saw Jesus addressing those who would be his disciples. He said they would need to not only be hearers of the word but doers of the word. He implied that it would be complete disaster for someone who only heard the word but didn’t act on the word. Then in our second point, we said that good actions flow from good hearts and bad actions flow from hearts. So, combine these teachings together. Why would someone hear Jesus’ teachings and never act on them? It would suggest that they have a heart hardened against the Lord, that their hearts are bad and need of new birth.
So then, do Jesus’ words actually penetrate your heart and spark good fruit in your life? Or do they just go in one ear and out the other? If they ultimately fall on deaf ears in you, then you have a serious heart problem. Ultimately, this is something that only God can change in you. And yet, if that bothers you or concerns you, then that very well may be evidence that God is at work in your heart right now. Because God works heart change through things like the Word of God being preached and heralded to you. If you are concerned today that you have been only a hearer and not a doer of God’s Word, then take action today to heed God’s Word. Repent of your sin, and call out to him in faith to change your heart. Take, for example, the words of Psalm 51:10 that pray to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Pray that God, looking to him to be the Great Physician of your soul.
This is so important because of what Jesus said here. There is a great storm of judgment coming. If your life is built on the firm foundation of Christ Jesus and his word, then will be firmly planted. On the day of God’s judgment, you will stand. But if you have really just been building something with no real foundation, then when the storm of God’s judgment comes, it will all come crashing down. As Psalm 1 declares, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, but will be like chaff that the wind drives away.
As we conclude our message, I want us to really think about the way this exhortation comes to you depending where you are at with Jesus. Jesus was especially trying to get the attention today of someone who at least outwardly held themselves out to be his disciple. Jesus spoke of someone that actually comes to Jesus and hears his words. That’s describing a disciple. You come to the teacher and sit under his teaching. Jesus is saying there are people who are going to go through the motions as his disciples and yet ultimately be shown to be foundationless. And for such would-be disciples, total and complete ruin will ultimately come upon them. We could imagine that some might fall into this category knowingly – that they knew they were just pretending to be a Christian for one reason or another, but weren’t really looking to truly follow Jesus. Others might fall into this category in foolishness – they might incorrectly think that because they go to church regularly and a certain number of other bible studies means you are following Jesus. And yet while those are important activities for disciples, if their hearts are actually still far from the Lord, never really heeding the gospel message, then they too will ultimately know God’s judgment. So this is one way today’s message applies: to those who would think them Christ’s disciple, we need to examine ourselves to see that we have truly been following him. He says to evaluate that by examining if you’ve been seeking to observe what he has taught us.
So then, if such a stern warning of judgment is given here to people who in some sense acted like a disciple of Christians but weren’t, then I hope you see the warning here for those who aren’t in anyway living like a disciple of Christ. It’s bad enough to come to Jesus and hear his word and not heed it. And yet how especially bad to be unwilling to come to Jesus in any sense. If that is where you are at, then I urge you to no longer reject Jesus. Do not be ashamed to come to Jesus. See how urgent it is that you do. Come to him, hear his words, and then look to heed his word. Whatever foundation for your life that you think you have, this is the one you really need. Build your life upon the rock of Jesus and his teachings. And the starting place for his teachings is to understand that you are a sinner who cannot save yourself. You need the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross to be the atonement for your sins. Repent and turn in faith to Jesus today and know forgiveness and grace from God and even a new heart!
I’ve addressed Jesus’ words to false disciples of Jesus, and to non-disciples of Jesus. Jesus’ words also come to us today who are indeed true disciples of Jesus. We remember today that we are not such true disciples because we are better than other people. We are only a true disciple because God has changed our hearts. Let us gratefully give thanks to God for this as we hear these words today. But let us also be encouraged that this life of following Jesus is not in vain. There is great value in obeying his word. We who truly follow Jesus have our lives now built on the firmest of foundations. We need to hear this. We need to be reminded of this. Our faith is not in vain. Be encouraged again today that you are founded on Christ our rock and no storm can truly shake us.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.