This is the twenty-seventh lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
Just released: A Book of Prayers for Kids by Mel Lawrenz (a perfect gift for the kids you know and love).
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. Matthew 7:24-29 (NIV)
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talked about one man who built a house on a rock foundation and another whose house rested on a bed of unstable sand. The house-on-sand person hears Jesus’ words only, whereas the house-on-rock person hears and practices. Respect plus response. It was right after this tale of two builders that Matthew mentions the people’s astonishment at Jesus’ authority. The people were not saying, “Did you hear what this fellow is trying to assert?” They were swept up in the power of the Word himself. His authority carried them, and it carries us still. It summons us not just to listen, but to act.
House building is a metaphor for life. Christ does not assert authority for arbitrary reasons. God does not impose commands so that he can have a bevy of mindless followers. His is an act of grace. These authoritative words come to us because God knows there is so much we need to learn about life. Ignorance may not be a sin, but it is an extraordinarily dangerous way to live.
When someone asks, “Why should I believe what Scripture teaches?” or, “Why should I believe the specific things taught about personal ethics, and life after death, and God’s providence in history, and angels, and failure?” the answer he or she deserves is that followers of Jesus Christ believe such things (knowing and trusting) because they believe they have heard an authoritative voice on the matters. Christ summons, and the oracles of prophets and the writings of apostles are Holy Scripture—the exhalation of God’s own Spirit.
Time and again people responded to Jesus’ words with speechless astonishment. Not everyone who heard Jesus became believers because we all have personal agendas that can hold us in disbelief. But everyone who did hear had to grapple with the power of what he said, and they had to decide what to do with the authoritative voice with which he spoke—an authority that did not come from a booming microphone or spotlights or banners, but from the ring of truth in the words themselves, backed up by every action he performed.
The Gospel writers make it clear that one of the outstanding features of Jesus’ ministry was that he freely and naturally exercised this authority. People sensed that they were under the immediate influence of God. Jesus’ words struck at the heart; they were clear, strong, unequivocal, simple, and mysterious. They both wounded and healed, and when they did wound, they offered immediate healing as well. His words still stick in people’s minds and keep moving across the landscape of history like a cyclone. That’s why almost everybody, including even proponents of other religions, show respect for the thunder and lightning of Jesus’ teaching.
Belief in God and in the truths of God is a distinctive experience. It is to say, “I have come to a certain conviction. I have listened, I have watched, I have thought about it. I now believe I know something I did not before. And it isn’t so much that I have chosen to believe as that belief has been born in me by a reality greater than myself. I have a sense of certitude, and my next steps in life will be different for it. I am carried along by this truth.”
Eva Helen Lawrenz, 1987-2017. “Eva” means life, “Helen” means light. In order to bring something purposeful out of loss, a memorial fund in Eva Lawrenz’s name is now funding translations and printings of How to Understand the Bible, How to Study the Bible, How to Live the Bible, Prayers for Our Lives, and other books. “Life and Light Books” exists to bring helpful literature to needy parts of the world, presently including Haiti, Ethiopia, Russia, Indonesia, Latin America, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, and more. To learn more, go to www.LifeAndLightBooks.org. All contributions are tax deductible in the USA.
Available now: Knowing Him: Devotional Readings About the Cross and Resurrection by Mel Lawrenz. Get it now.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.