SUNDAY NT SERMON: Tim Keller “Decrees of the King” – Ephesians 2:19-22
Series: The King and the Kingdom – Part 9
Preached in Manhattan, NY on September 17, 1989
How many weeks have I been on Ephesians 2? I’m not sure, but what we’ve been doing is looking at what the Bible says the church should be, what the church can be, and what the church is. Ephesians 2. I’m going to read verses 19-22.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19–22
The last thing I want to say in this series about what the church is, is about this phrase: the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The foundation of the church, the foundation of all of our lives is the apostles and the prophets.
A lot of you know I live on Roosevelt Island. That’s just 300 yards from Manhattan. We live right around 74th Street. We can look up East 74th Street. What was happening one Saturday is I was noticing you can go … Did you know you can go east in a car on 73rd Street? You can drive from York to the FDR Drive, which, of course, is the expressway down the eastern part of Manhattan. You can come out on 73rd, and as soon as you turn the corner, you get into a little chute. It’s one lane, and it moves you for about two blocks.
You go in front of 71st Street and then you come right out onto the traffic and you’re gone. You’re out. One day I noticed there was a truck backing up at 71st Street, some kind of maintenance truck. As a result, the chute was stopped. The people couldn’t go by 71st Street, and the cars were stopped up, all the way up the chute, all the way onto 73rd. There was even a line of people on 73rd waiting to get into the chute.
I could see with my binoculars that the truck was ready to back up. In fact, as the truck backed up, all the people in the chute started clearing out. Now if you were at 73rd Street and you hadn’t turned the corner yet, and you were about to go into the chute, you could not see what was going. You could see that it was backed up, but you could not see what the problem was or what the prospects were.
What intrigued me was, as the chute emptied out, the first man at the top of 73rd, who could not see … hesitated. He didn’t come on out, and I knew what he was saying to himself. He was saying, “If I get out in that chute and it’s really stopped up in some way … You can’t go backwards. You can’t go forwards. You can’t turn right or left … I’m dead. I’ll be there for who knows long. After all, this is New York.”
So what he did was, even though the chute had cleared out, he began to back up. Now there were tons of cars behind him, and there was at least a 15-minute mess as a result. He backed up. Other people started yelling and screaming. I was watching through the binoculars. It was great … a great show. What intrigued me was he got out, and he began to talk to the people about what he was doing.
Instead of anybody else coming around him, he convinced them. They could’ve come around him and out, but instead he convinced them. I don’t know what he was saying, but he was saying, “Let’s get out of here. Let’s back up.” So there was at least a 15-minute pileup, basically, of cars trying to back away and not going into that chute. They were this close to freedom, but they couldn’t see it.
You know why. What was the basis? What was the foundation for their decision? What was the basis for their course of action? Their foundation was their own perspective. They could only see this far. I guess they were going on their experience. They probably all had been stuck in chutes for two hours in New York City, and on the basis of their experience, on the basis of their perception, on the basis of their reason, they made their decision. It was a faulty foundation.
What they needed was someone with transcendent knowledge. They needed somebody who was above and outside. It wasn’t a driver. It wasn’t someone on the highway but somebody above and outside the highway who could see the whole picture, who could know what the best course of action was, a transcendent person (like me), someone who was above and beyond it all looking at it.
As he was backing away, if I had this great transmitter, what I could’ve done is I could’ve beamed into his car radio and said, “Don’t do what you’re doing. Don’t follow your feelings. Don’t follow your perceptions. Don’t follow your experience. I know, from my perspective, the right thing is for you to go straight down and into that chute. I know it seems like suicide. It’s the only way out.” What that man needed was revelation. Revelation means outside knowledge, knowledge outside of himself, knowledge outside even of his little world, which was the highway.
What God is saying here is it is not a proper foundation for the church; it’s not a proper foundation for any human life to only rely on your own experience, your own wisdom. Anything less than the revelation God has brought to us through apostles and prophets, which is in the Word of God. The only legitimate foundation, the only worthy foundation for any life at all, the only appropriate “bottom” is the Word of God. Everybody in this room has a foundation for your decisions. What is it? I don’t think you’ll get out of here tonight until you know what it is.
If we’re going to understand what our foundation is and what it should be, we have to look at the passage. We’re just looking at these little words right here in verse 20. We should be “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” Okay, let’s examine that phrase by asking some questions. Number one, What is the foundation? Then number two, How can we be sure we’re laid on it?
1. What is the foundation?
The apostles and the prophets were people through whom God spoke, and their revelations from God are written down in this Word. The most intriguing thing about the prophets and apostles, to the human mind, is an incredible incongruity because on the one hand, these men, these apostles and prophets, were tremendously humble people. You have Paul saying, “I am the chief of sinners.” If you read the Bible, you’ll see the people who wrote it were quite willing to tell all about the worst parts of their life, all about their flaws.
You know, one of the most intriguing books to me is the book of Jonah. How again and again and again, God called him to preach to Nineveh. He ran away, and then he was swallowed by a fish. He comes up. He goes to Nineveh, and he’s angry when he has a revival and people start to turn to Christ. His racism comes out. He begins to say, “This is what I was afraid of. The reason I didn’t go to Nineveh the first time was I afraid these people might get converted, and I hate them. I want to see them as dust under my feet.”
The only way we could have possibly ever known what happened between Jonah and God, and Jonah and the whale, Jonah and all that stuff, is if Jonah told somebody. Who would’ve told anybody about that? We all have things in our lives where we were just absolute fools, but we would never want to have it written down, let alone in a book that millions of people are going to read the rest of the history of the world.
You see, the apostles and the prophets were like that. They were willing to say, “This is what I am. This is my weakness. This is what I am,” and yet when they were overshadowed by the Spirit of God, they knew their words were not their words, but they were God’s words, and they acted that way. They said, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Here’s Paul, for example, who says, “I am the chief of sinners,” and yet when he writes, at the end of 1 Corinthians, at the end of 1Thessalonians, he says, “Anyone who doesn’t listen to these words, have nothing to do with them because these words are the words of God.” It doesn’t seem right, because the people who act like that, that say, “What I have said is the word of God.” These are demagogues, you know, the people we have met in the history who talk like that.
They’re demagogues. They’re not humble people. They’re not servants. On the other hand, humble servant people don’t say, “This is the word of God.” But the reason is that the prophets and the apostles were godly people who knew God was giving them a gift for all mankind, and that was the gift of his truth. Basically, again and again and again, these men say, “Thus saith the Lord,” which means, “This is not my idea, friends. You have to listen. It’s not my idea.”
Jeremiah said, “The Word of God is a fire in my bones, and I have to get it out.” They understood what was going on. Because the biblical writers knew these were God’s words, not their words, not their ideas about God, not their experiences of God, but God’s words, as a result, they could talk about themselves as a foundation, because a foundation is something that does not shift. It’s something that does not change. It’s something that is absolutely solid. It’s absolute truth.
You must understand the Bible was just a record of a lot of godly people who had great experiences of God, and therefore, they were able to tell us a lot of good things. Yet, like any other book, there are good things in here and there are bad things. If that’s what the Bible is, it can’t be a foundation, because a foundation can’t have some good stones and others not. You can’t build a house if you have 10 foundation stones, and you say, “Well eight of them will hold the house up. That’s good enough.” No, it isn’t good enough. Every part of the foundation has to be solid and changeless.
This is how the Scripture writers thought of themselves. They said, “We’re a foundation.” For example, Peter says this about Scripture. Peter, in 2 Peter 1, he says, “… no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.” Did you hear that? “… no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
This was not just the biblical writers’ view of it. All of the church has always seen it that way, for example, Martin Luther. Luther says, “A man’s word is a little sound, that flies in the air, and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea greater than heaven and hell, for it forms part of the power of God and endures everlastingly …” Foundation. That means anything the Bible says is true; otherwise, we cannot talk about it being a foundation. Before we move on (and I want to talk about, How do you make sure you lay on the foundation?), I can’t leave without a couple of words to people who doubt what I’m saying.
Some people say, “Well, I just don’t buy that, and most enlightened pastors and churches don’t buy that anymore, and what we believe is the Bible is one authority, but there are certain things in the Bible we may not be able to accept anymore. Therefore, the Bible is an authority, but we also have other authorities. We have cultural attitudes and the wisdom of modern research. We have a lot of authorities, so the Bible is just one authority. It’s not the only authority. It’s one part of the foundation. It’s not the whole foundation. Does that make sense?”
It doesn’t. You’ve misspoken, my friend. Because when you say the Bible is just one of our authorities, but we might find things in it we can’t accept, you’ve actually shifted to a whole new foundation, because now the foundation is your own judgment. Do you see? When you say, “Well, the Bible is an authority, but it’s only one authority,” what you mean is, “I’m the authority, and I scan through the Word of God. I decide, on the basis of my own judgment and my own sagacity and my own wisdom which things look like they’re great and which things look like they’re a little weird, and I don’t know whether I can buy that.”
You see, it’s a whole new foundation. Don’t say the Bible is your foundation anymore. It’s not even part of your foundation. Your own judgment is your foundation, and it’s a very dangerous condition to be in. Very dangerous. Stop and think about it just for a moment. In the middle of the book of Job, Job begins to question God. He begins to say, “God, I don’t like the way things are going.”
In other words, he begins to find fault with God. God appears. What does he say? He says, “Job, where were you when I stretched out the heavens? Where were you when I scattered the stars? Where were you when I laid the foundation for the earth? In your three score and 10 years, in your few years, have you become wiser than me?” Let me apply that to our understanding of the Word. If you believe there are any parts of the Word of God that are shaky, that you can’t accept, that you believe have mistakes in them, if you believe that, don’t you see what you’ve done is you shifted completely to another foundation?
Look what your foundation is. Your own wisdom. Don’t you remember what you were like 10 years ago? Do you remember the stupid mistakes you made 10 years ago? Do you remember how naïve you were in this and that? Do you remember what a fool you were? You were. You know that. Anybody in this room who has any kind of normal adult-maturation process going on, you’ll look back at 10 years ago, and you’ll say, “I was an absolute idiot 10 years ago.” What do you think you’re going to say about yourself 10 years from now? You’re a fool now! We’re all fools now! We’re fools now. Yes, we are.
As you read through Word of God and you say, “There’s this thing I just can’t stand. This part of the Old Testament is awfully harsh. This part of what Paul says in the New Testament is sexist. I don’t like this.” Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have even known that. You know, it’s maybe in the last 10 years you even came to these great conclusions that now put you in a position to be the foundation, to go through the Word of God and decide where he’s right and where he’s wrong.
My friends, that’s what God was saying to Job. Are you kidding me? Do you really, really believe you’re in a position to be a two-edged sword and to go through the Word of God and scan it and to say, “I like this,” and to take other things out? My friends, the Word of God is a two-edged sword. It should be scanning through us, and it should be saying, “This is what I affirm, and this is what is wrong.” I mean, this is role reversal of the worst kind.
So first of all, if you say, “I’m a believer. I’m a Christian, but I cannot say the Word of God is my absolute authority, and the Word of God is the foundation of the church,” don’t you see what a contradictory position you’re in? Don’t you see how arrogant it is? I’ll go one step further, and that is if you don’t believe the Bible is an authority, if, instead, your foundation is your own wisdom and your own feelings and your own discernment or modern research or cultural opinion or public opinion or whatever, I want you to see you’re in a state of eternal and utter vertigo. I hope you will live with the consequences and be honest enough about it.
Some years ago, my sister’s husband, my brother-in-law, Larry, who is a doctor, was going through residency. This is a different brother-in-law than the one who watched the guy go through the windshield. Remember that one? Yes, those of you with your “perfect attendance” pins and have come to all the evening services will know all about my family, but the rest of you have very spotty knowledge.
Anyway, Larry was in his residency as a doctor. At one point, I guess he did psychiatric rounds, and he was working in a psychiatric unit of a hospital. There was one man who he was consulting with the head resident about (the teacher, the guy over him), and this resident and Larry were talking, “What are we going to do about this guy?”
Now Larry knew this resident just didn’t like the guy. He was a psychiatric patient, but Larry realized the doctor, the resident, didn’t like him. The man rubbed him the wrong way. In the discussion, Larry was sitting there, and he says, “Well, here’s what I think: I think, in some ways, it’s hard but simple what we have to do. We have to convince this man he actually is a worthwhile person. Just let him know he is a valuable, valued, worthwhile person. That’s what we have to do.”
The doctor, the teaching doctor over Larry, looked at him and said, “How do you know that?” Larry just about went back. Larry was a believer, and as he was about to turn to this doctor, he suddenly realized something. He suddenly realized that whereas he could say, “Well, even though I don’t like this young guy either, I have a foundation. I have an authority who tells me he is (regardless of how I feel, regardless of how I perceive him) a valuable human being. He’s not just a piece of rock that has fallen to the bottom of the river, and I have to treat him that way,” he couldn’t appeal to that in this man because this man was his own foundation.
Don’t you see? If every person is their own foundation and you just choose what you want to believe about what’s right and wrong, and you put your own religion together, fine, you have a right to do that. But never call anybody else, never call a country, never call a society, never call anybody else to moral behavior because you have no basis.
Just like that guy said, “How do you know he’s worthwhile? In my estimation, he’s nothing.” In other words, what’s right for you might be right for you, but what’s right for me might be right for me. There’s no basis. We have no basis for society. You certainly don’t have a basis for calling other people to moral behavior.
Larry realized, at that moment, what the consequences were of abandoning the foundation. Don’t you see, friends, if you abandon the foundation, not only have you no basis for church, you don’t have any basis for life? You’re in a state of utter vertigo, never, ever, ever being able to call people to moral behavior.
I see the placards out there that say, “Get your laws off my body.” You don’t have a right to tell me what to do with my own body. I spent 10 years in the South, and I know there are a lot of shop owners who really, really, really bristled under the anti-segregation laws. Why? They said, “I built this shop. It’s mine. It’s private property, and if I don’t want certain kinds of people in here … Get your laws off my shop!” “Get your laws off my body,” basically, they said.
“Well,” the New Yorkers say, “but that’s different. That’s racism. That’s immoral.” On whose basis? How are you going to call anything immoral if everybody is their own foundation, if there’s no transcendent authority, if there’s no revelation from God? You can forget about saying, “Well, racism is immoral.” You can’t say that. But if your foundation is the Word of God, if you believe in revelation, and you accept revelation, then you have a basis for moving on. Then there’s a bottom to life. Do you understand that? That’s what the foundation is.
2. How can you be sure you’re laid on it?
How can you be sure? Well, if you’re going to build on a foundation, you can’t just put a wing of the house on the foundation and the rest somewhere else. The whole house, everything has to be on there. Let me just suggest to you that could be a very long sermon if I tried to take every part of us and put it on there, but let’s just do three. Let’s talk about our minds, our wills, and our hearts. If you want to be built on the foundation, you have to have your mind, your will, and your heart built on it, okay?
First, mind. Do you know what that means? Maybe you think, “Well that means I’m supposed to believe everything the Bible says.” Well, of course, but it goes a lot deeper than that. If you’re built on the foundation, you are thinking biblically about everything. You saturate your mind with the Word of God to the place where you’re thinking biblically about all things. It’s almost like you’re taking the Word of God, and you’re making it like spectacles, like glasses. You put the Word on so everything you see, you’re seeing through it.
Somebody might be saying as they’re hearing me talk, “Am I hearing you right up there? I think I’ve come into a time machine, not a Presbyterian church. Do you honestly want modern New Yorkers to believe everything the Bible says? Never question anything? Are you telling me I have to check my brain at the door with the usher? Are you telling me I have to just accept everything you say dogmatically? What kind of Christians would this sort of view produce? Obviously, it would just be little people who walk along like robots and do everything they’re told. You can have it. I don’t want a religion like that?”
You completely misunderstand the ramification of biblical authority, completely and utterly. First of all, my friends, to think biblically means you are now in a position, finally, to be creative and independent. Absolutely. Look, for example, suppose you become part of this church, and I come in, and I say, “Well, this is how we do things in a Presbyterian church.”
Very politely now, you don’t have to say, “Oh, well, hey, if that’s the way Presbyterians do it, and I’m a Presbyterian, I guess I …” You have to say, “Would you please explain to me … is that the biblical way? Show me in the Bible. I don’t care if you’re Presbyterian. I don’t care if you’re Episcopalian. I don’t care what you are. Show me in the Bible. That’s my basis.” You see, you’re not gullible anymore.
You’re a law student, for example, and you’re reading a legal textbook. It’s a philosophy of law. What do you say? If you’re not built on the foundation of the Word, you have to say, “Well, this man is an expert. This man is the leading thinker in the philosophy of law. Who am I to question him?” But if you’re built on the foundation, you can say, “How does this square with the Word of God?”
Don’t you see? It makes you extremely independent because no longer are you a slave to tradition. You don’t have to do things because that’s the way they’ve done them anymore, because that’s not the basis for your authority. No longer can you be intimidated by experts. If you’re not a Christian, or certainly if you’re not built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and you go to law school, and you read philosophy of law, what are you going to do? You’ve never worked on a philosophy of law. Who knows? You say, “Well, heck, I mean, why should I question this? This person has studied for 50 years.”
But the Word of God endures everlastingly. It’s transcendent knowledge, and you can say, “How does this square with the Word of God?” No longer are you cowed by experts. Now longer are you cowed by preachers. No longer are you cowed by anybody, tradition. It’s the end of gullibility, friends. Finally, you can be creative.
On the other hand, here’s what is so interesting: Even as it makes you so independent and much more open-minded than you’ve ever been before, to have this view of the Word of God, to be a biblical thinker, makes you humble too. Because if you don’t trust experts, you don’t trust your own expertise either. If you’re not going to listen to anything I say unless you make sure you believe this is biblical, on the other hand, you also have to say, “Hey, why should I even believe myself and my own prejudices and my own views? Let me check out whether I am right on the foundation.”
You see, there’s a humility this view points out, because your expertise, your feelings, your opinions, your prejudices, are no longer authoritative. What your parents told you is no longer authoritative. Nothing is but this, and that gives incredible freedom. Now before anybody says, “Great. Fantastic. I believe that. I want to think biblically. I want to put myself, my mind … Intellectually, cognitively, I want to be right on the Word of God, and that’s where I stand,” or maybe some of you say, “Well, that’s great. You’re convincing me I want to try that,” let me warn you it’s not easy.
Because what we have a tendency to do is to bring in the baggage of our ideologies. Unless you’re constantly reforming your mind, and we’re constantly reforming our church according to the Word of God, we can just, without knowing it, bring the ideologies of the world in. You know what I mean? For example, Christians who are based on the Word of God are always creative and distinctive, and therefore, they stand apart.
Let me give you a quick example: Catholic bishop of New York, Mr. O’Connor. I was reading his position on AIDS. It’s intriguing because there’s a conservative ideology in this country, and I know a lot about it because evangelical Christians, unfortunately, in many, many cases have bought into conservative ideology that says, “Well, you know, the people who get AIDS have gotten AIDS through homosexuality and through drug abuse, and therefore, we never liked those people anyway, so let them suffer.” That’s the conservative ideology. Oh, it’s never, never put out there in print, but it’s there, and it’s thick in many parts of the country.
Then there’s a liberal ideology that says, on the one hand, “There is nothing wrong with this behavior, and we need to fight for these folks and really help these people out.” Then you have O’Connor who has a biblical position in this case and, therefore, is getting creamed by everybody, because what he’s saying is, “We have to go all out, open all the stops to get a cure for AIDS. We have to help AIDS victims against discrimination. We have to be advocates for them. We have to help them. We have to love them. We have to do all that, but homosexuality is a sin.”
He’s getting creamed because anybody who’s biblical steps outside of conservative and liberal ideologies and doesn’t belong to either of them. “Now you’re going to tell me that this view of the Word of God, this view of revelation, makes you … what … a mindless a person? Does this mean you just check your mind at the door?” My friends, finally, you’re free. Finally, you’re free from party spirit, from ideologies, from totalitarian philosophies, from demagogic Presbyterian ministers. Finally, you see that.
Okay, but that’s not enough. Not enough. It’s not enough just to think biblically and get your mind on the foundation. Secondly, there’s the will. The will. Oh, gee. Unconditional obedience. That’s what it means to put yourself completely on the foundation of the Word of God. There’s a big, big difference between 99 percent obedience and unconditional obedience. A huge difference.
Many of us obey Christian principles most of the time. Why? Because most of the time it looks practical, right? You’ve heard since you were little, “Honesty is the best policy,” so most of the time you don’t lie, because when you do, you feel bad. Besides that, you’re afraid somebody might find you out. Most of the time, you obey; 98 percent of the time. Most of the time, you obey, but there are places where what the Word of God says, what Christian principles say, you delay your obedience. Why? Because it looks like it might not be practical.
Let me give you an example. The Bible says a believer should not wittingly marry an unbeliever. That sounds like a pretty impractical thing for a lot of people, doesn’t it? They say, “Are you kidding me? Do you realize how that narrows the field, which already looks like a bottleneck to me?” I just use that illustration, because in a place like New York where everybody is single, it looks like suicide. It looks stupid.
I want you to know all those other places where you’re obeying don’t tell you whether or not your will, your volition is built, on the Word of God. It’s at those places where it looks impractical that you can see what your real foundation is. Because, you see, God came to Abraham several times. The first time he says, “Abraham, get out and go to another land.” Abraham says, “Where?” God says, “I’ll tell you later.”
Then later on, he says, “Abraham, wait for a child to be born. Your whole life you must wait, put on hold, until your child is born.” Abraham says, “How? We’re in our 90s.” God says, “I’ll show you later.” Then after the child’s born, God comes and says, “Abraham, Abraham, take your son, your only son, whom you love, and kill him.” Abraham says, “Why?” God says, “I’ll tell you later.”
At every one of those places, what if God had said to Abraham, “Abraham, I want you to obey, but let me explain, before you do this, all that I’m going to show you, all that’s going to happen. You’re going to go up the hill, and you’re going to raise the dagger over Isaac, but at the last minute, I’m going to say, ‘No, you don’t have to do it.’ Or when I told you to get out of Ur of the Chaldees, I could show you this great little suburb I have all laid out for you.”
He could have done that. He says, “So I’ll show you exactly how it’ll work out, Abraham, and then you can obey.” Why didn’t God do that? Because it’s impossible to do that and still have obedience. It’s not obedience anymore, because if your foundation is you, if you were in the position of deciding which of God’s commands look practical and which ones don’t, then the Bible is not part of your foundation. It’s not your foundation at all. Your judgment again, your interest, your comfort, your goals, your schedule, your agenda for your life, that’s the basis, and you’re judging what God has to say?
Don’t you see, those of you who, right now, are disobeying God because you think to obey him would hurt? Or those of you who are delaying obedience because you think to go ahead and obey will be impractical, will be stupid, don’t you see your foundation isn’t the Word of God at all, even though 98 percent of the rest of your life you’re in conformity with God’s Word? It’s just an accident, because the foundation is you.
As long as you find all these areas where it looks practical, yes, you’ll obey, but my friends, you’re not on the foundation. I tell you, you are not a good foundation. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand. Are you going to be like Abraham who obeyed the bare Word of God? God’s Word and nothing else was enough to get obedience from him.
You know what? What is so lovely is in Romans 4, when it tells us that Abraham listened to God and obeyed, it says in the King James (it doesn’t use this phrase in the modern translations, and, oh, I long for it), “He staggered not at the promise of God …” Isn’t that intriguing? Paul says Abraham “… staggered not at the promise …” What promise? God said, “Take your son and kill him.”
But every command is a promise. It has this promise. Again and again and again, the Bible says, in one way or another, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for …” what? Blessedness? No. Righteousness. Don’t try to find blessedness. Do the right thing, and you’ll get all the blessedness you could possibly want. “Seek first his kingdom, and all these other things will be added unto you.” “Obey my Word, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” That’s the promise.
Friends, the reason we disobey is not because God’s commands are too hard. It’s because we’re too cynical. We don’t believe the promise. We don’t believe when God says, “Obey me, and you’ll get what you need.” We don’t believe it, so don’t you dare say, “The reason I’m not standing on the foundation is because it’s too hard.” Oh, no, my friends. It’s because you don’t believe God. You may believe in God, but do you believe God? A lot of you believe in God, but how many of you believe God? How many of us?
Lastly … this is the end … it’s not enough to simply put your mind and your will, you also have to put your heart on the foundation. By that, I mean this: It says here that Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone. Unfortunately, today, cornerstones are almost what? Embellishments. They’re like decoration.
But in the good ol’ days, when the Bible was written, your cornerstone was very important because your cornerstone was the big stone in the house, and all the rest of the foundation stones were basically pushed up against it. If the cornerstone was left out or brought out, everything else would crumble, and that means, in a sense, the foundation is just an extension of the cornerstone.
Let’s draw that analogy out. If you know the Bible so well, if you’ve memorized the Bible so you could win every Bible test or Bible quiz in the world, and if you have been very diligent to know all those regulations and you’re following them every day, what does that make you? Well, you’re on the way, but if you stop there you’re a Pharisee, because the Pharisees knew the Bible by heart, and the Pharisees did all these things, and yet Jesus comes to them and says, “… you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” It’s an amazing thing to say.
“You don’t know the Scriptures? How could he say that of the Pharisees?” I’ll tell you why. Because the purpose of the Bible is to bring you to put your faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. That’s the purpose of all of the Bible. If you just know a lot about the Bible, and if you’re just trying to obey diligently, but you have missed the point of it, you haven’t built on the foundation yet. The point of the foundation is the Cornerstone.
After Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, there were, one day, two disciples, two followers of Jesus, on the road to Emmaus. This is recorded at the end of the book of Luke, and Jesus Christ appears to them at one point. When they do not recognize him, he begins to explain about the Messiah. It says in Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
Did you hear that? “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets …” Every one of them; even Obadiah. “… he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” What this means is every part of the Bible, one way or another, the purpose of it is to bring you to Christ, to bring you to put your faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. If you haven’t done that, you have not built on the foundation, because Jesus isn’t your Cornerstone. He’s not the thing you’ve built on.
Why is Jesus the Cornerstone? Because if you are relying on your self-discipline or your thoughtful and cognizant spirit that you have, having lived in New York for so long and gone to all the literary cafes, or on your moral record, or just on how true you are to your principles, if those things are your cornerstone, you still aren’t on the foundation.
What does it mean to make Jesus your Cornerstone? Charles Spurgeon, a great Baptist preacher in London in the nineteenth century, wrote about a conversation he had with a man who worked as a longshoreman on the dock. This is the conversation, and this is a perfect example of what it means to make Jesus your Cornerstone. Listen carefully.
Spurgeon says to the longshoreman, “Do you, my friend, have a good hope that if you die, God will accept you? What is your hope?” The longshoreman says, “Well, sir, I do. I believe I’m as good as most folk I know.” Spurgeon: “Oh, dear. Oh, dear. My friend, my friend, I’m very concerned for you. Is this the best you have to rely on?” The longshoreman, now a little bit shaken: “Well, I’m also very, very charitable to the needy.”
Spurgeon: “Oh, dear. Oh, dear. My friend, my friend, I’m concerned for you. Is this the best you have to rely on?” Then he turns to the man and says, “Have you sinned?” The man says, “Yes.” Then he says, “Well, what gives you hope you will be forgiven?” The longshoreman says, “I am very, very sorry for my sins, and I have stopped them.”
Spurgeon says, “That’s what you’re relying on for forgiveness? Now friend, suppose you get in debt to your grocer, and you go to her, and you say, ‘Look, ma’am, I’m sorry I can’t pay all these goods I have bought, but I’ll tell you what. I’m very sorry for all the debts, and I’ll never get into debt anymore.’ Do you think she would accept that? Of course not. Would you even try that with her? Of course not. Do you suppose you can treat the Great God that way, as you would never do to your own grocer?”
Now the longshoreman says, “Well, my dear pastor, what should I be relying on?” Spurgeon says, “Then I told him, as plainly as I could, how the Lord Jesus had taken the place of sinners, and how those who trusted in him and rested on his blood and righteousness would find pardon and peace.” Cornerstone. Your heart is not built on the foundation if you just know a lot about the Bible, but have you transferred your trust from all these other cornerstones to him?
Well, here’s where we are, at the end. My friends, let me just suggest … the Bible, the Scriptures … Jesus says, “Search the Scriptures …” I’ll just end with the two things that are there at the bottom of your outline anyway, two final admonitions.
1. Search the Scriptures
Do you know what that means? “Search the Scriptures …” A lot of you read the Bible like you walk down a path and you notice some flowers. That’s strolling. If you’re searching, you’re down on your hands and knees like you’re looking for a contact lens. That’s how you’re supposed to read the Scripture.
My life was changed forever 15 years ago when I went on a retreat, and a lady who was teaching the Bible said, “Tomorrow I want you all to study one verse for 30 minutes.” One verse. “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men,” she said. “I don’t want you to stop after five minutes, but for 30 minutes I want you to write down everything you see in that verse, everything you believe you can learn from that verse. I want at least 100 things.”
Let me tell you something. I’ve never been the same, because after five minutes you had four or five things down, and you said, “This is ridiculous. Thirty minutes?” But after you pray, and you look, and you think, and next thing you know, they come, and they come. Everybody came back that day with 100 things. She started saying, “Okay, circle the one thing that was probably the most life-changing, the most thrilling, the most important thing you learned from the verse,” and we all circled it.
“How many of you,” then she said, “found that in the first five minutes?” Nobody raised their hand. “How many of you found it in the first 10 minutes?” Nobody raised their hand. “How many of you found it in the first 15 minutes?” One or two. “How many of you found it in the first 20, then 30?” Almost everybody raised their hands. Search the Scriptures. Look at the diligence you put in to making a living.
Yet I think on the last day, a lot of our possessions are going to get up, and they’re going to speak to us. They’re going to say, “You broke your back for us, and now we’re rust and dust. Here was the Word of God in which imperishable treasure lay, and you hardly broke the cover.” But don’t just stop with that. Don’t just search the Scriptures …
2. Let the Scriptures search you
Let it search you. One of the reasons we’re so confused today is because we don’t know the Word of God. We don’t let it search us. We don’t find ourselves, every day, looking at it and saying, “Lord, let it be a sword that comes through and does surgery on me.”
Remember when Jesus vanished from those two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus? Remember that? He left. They turned to each other, and they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us when he opened the Scriptures to us?” When is the last time your heart burned within you as you opened the Scripture? Jesus will open the Scripture. He’ll speak to you if you come to him and say, “I want to be on the foundation, heart, will, and mind, every part of me.” Are you ready to do that? Are you ready to put the time in that it takes, or not? Let’s pray.
Father, we see on the one hand, the gist of this passage is that there is much work we can do. We need to put forth the effort to do the study. We need to put forth the effort to find the time. We need to be diligent in saturating our minds in the Word of God and trusting it and believing it and obeying it, but we also see it’s your Son who will come to us and open the Scriptures for us because we’re too dense, oh, Father. We’re fools, and yet it’s a promise.
Father, we want our hearts to burn within us. We want our hearts to warm up and mountains of ice and snow melt because your Son is teaching us the Word. Father, we want that, and I pray every person in this room will know this soon, but especially those here who need to make Jesus, you, oh, Lord Jesus, their Cornerstone. Enable us all to build on that foundation. For we pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.
ABOUT THE PREACHER
In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting. Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.
Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:
Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).
Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).
Judges For You(God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).
Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.
Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.
The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.
Generous Justice:How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.
The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.
King’s Cross:The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.
Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.
The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.
Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.
Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.
The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.
Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.
I am the Lead Pastor of Marin Bible Church (Bay Area), born and raised in Huntington Beach, Ca., and currently living in Novato, California. I am married to my best friend of 30 years - Dana - and have five adult children; and seven grand children. I have been a Teaching Pastor for over thirty years. I was privileged to study at Multnomah University (B.S. - 1988); Talbot School of Theology (M.Div. - 1991); Westminster Theological Seminary & Northwest Graduate School (D. Min. - 2003). I founded Vertical Living Ministries in 2008 with the goal of encouraging Christian Disciples and Leaders to be more intentionally Christ-Centered in how they live by bringing glory to God in nine key areas of life: (1) Intimacy with God, (2) marriage, (3) family, (4) friendship, (5) vocationally/ministry , (6) emotional and physical health, (7) stewardship of resources, (8) discipleship, and (9) mentoring.
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