If It Is From God…

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

2nd Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2022

Scriptures – Matthew 7: 24-29 and Acts 5: 27-42

With Holy Week and Easter Sunday in our recent rear-view mirror, we will now turn our attention to this odd season known as “After Easter.”  It begins today with two readings that have virtually nothing to do with the immediate time period following the resurrection of Jesus; however, both readings DO focus our attention on living into that life of believing in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and being reminded that his resurrection should steel us for the bad times in life.

Two readings…two major points to remember:

  1. In the reading from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told the parable of building a house on sand vs. building on solid rock.  To any listener anywhere and in any time, this is a pretty clear analogy: to follow Christ, to love God, to live one’s life as a believer is to build one’s house on solid rock.  To do anything otherwise – no matter the skill, the intentions, the expense, the patience – is to build upon sinking sand.
  2. In the reading from the Book of Acts, a wise and well-respected elder from the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, cautioned his fellow high priests to watch and see what came from the Apostles, their so-called preaching, and especially their actions.  If it was from God, nothing could stop it.  But those elders and priests were angry and frustrated that this whole Jesus problem continued to come up.  It also seemed clear that they feared the continuing power and influence of their teachings, their good works, and – of course! – their healing and casting out of demons.

So, we have two readings…two major points to keep in mind.  And they overlap in many ways that hold true – especially in the aftermath of the resurrection.

In John’s Gospel account of “doubting Thomas,” we have an Apostle, a faithful follower of Jesus, who could not be convinced that Jesus was alive.  In his doubt, Thomas put conditions on his faith in Jesus’ resurrection; he would only believe if he could put his finger in the nail holes and his hand in the side of Jesus where the Roman spear pierced him after he was dead.  In other words, Thomas denied that the events described to him could possibly be from God.  To him, they sounded like nothing but sinking sand.  The only solid rock for Thomas was visual proof and touching the wounds.

In Matthew’s resurrection account, we have the Roman guards passing out cold when the tomb was opened.  Scripture tells us that they “shook and became like dead men.”  But after they woke up and saw nothing and no one at the tomb, they went to tell the Sanhedrin’s chief priests.  Those guards were bribed to tell everyone that they Apostles had stolen the body of Jesus to reinforce their belief that he would rise from the dead.  In other words, the chief priests and elders of the Sanhedrin would not believe that any of this news could possibly be from God.  It was obviously a tale built on sinking sand… especially since it took bribing the guards in order to pull it off.

Mark’s Gospel has possibly the most frustrating ending of any of the Gospel accounts.  In this one, the women find the tomb empty, the angel tells them that Jesus is not there, they fled in terror and amazement… “and tell no one.”  This can’t be from God!  Since when did God keep secrets from his followers?!?!  

If an angel was involved, isn’t that direct evidence that this whole account was from God?  Also, because all of us know the story of Jesus after his resurrection, someone told their story.  Someone blabbed!  Those women may have been terrorized and amazed – and who could blame them? – but their story is known today.  Keeping the resurrection of Jesus a secret would be the ultimate case of building on sinking sand!

Finally, let’s turn to Luke’s Gospel.  The best storyteller of the four Gospel writers gives us a story of two followers walking from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus, about seven miles away.  They were devasted that their leader, Jesus of Nazareth, was crucified and is dead in the tomb. They had hoped for so much more from him.  But that dream, that hope was dead and buried.  While they walked, they encountered a “stranger” whom they do not recognize.  This stranger walked with them to Emmaus and asked them why they were so sad.  

When they described what happened to Jesus, this stranger began to explain to them what had happened as fulfillment of what the Scriptures had to say.  In other words, the stranger was making the case that their despair was a house built on sinking sandScripture and its explanations were the solid rock of the situation.  

Then the dramatic climax of the story occurred when the stranger joined them for dinner: he broke the bread, their eyes were opened, they recognized Him…and he vanished from their sight.  NOW they know.  NOW they believed.  NOW they understood that their faith was again built on solid rock

And now they understood more than they did before: all that Jesus had done was from God.

If something is from God, nothing will stop it. 

If one’s faith is built on solid rock, nothing can shake it.

Note the word “nothing” in both statements.

Let me share a personal example of these two statements overlapping in my own life.

During my last year of teaching, 2008-2009, I visited three seminaries to see which one might be the best option for me to finish my seminary education and training.  I had taken night classes for several years, so I hoped that wherever I went, I would only have two years’ worth of classes to go.  

First, I visited Austin Seminary since it was a good nearby choice and they had taught all of my night courses since 2002.  But I would have been a “commuter” – meaning I would drive back and forth to Austin at least weekly for classes.  I was shone the type of room I would be living in…which was appropriately called a “cell.”  It was claustrophobically small, and I immediately didn’t like it.  Staying in a student apartment was not an option unless I actually moved to Austin.  Living with my daughter who was attending UT at the time was out of the question…trust me on that one…she made it crystal clear.  And to make it worse, the registrar hinted that since some of my classes were “so old” I might have to repeat them.

I didn’t choose Austin Seminary.  It seemed to me to be a “sinking sand” choice for me – although many of my fellow pastors have received a fine education from their and I still support and admire that seminary.

Next, I explored a new option: Fuller Seminary right here in Houston.  The dean was my Old Testament professor from many years earlier.  I was welcomed with open arms to their new and developing program. I knew lots of their seminarians.  It all looked like a “solid rock” choice for me…until I asked a few questions.  I discovered that some of my previous work would not transfer, I would need to take a third semester of Greek, and I would need 2.5 years in order to finish…possibly three.  I didn’t like any of this, but it seemed to be my best option.

I also visited Princeton Seminary in New Jersey because it was only 30 miles from my in-laws’ home, meaning we would be near family if we decided to move there.  During that weekend, I didn’t like anything.  I got badly lost on the campus at night because I missed my ride from the airport and arrived quite late.  I visited several classes that intimidated me and my fellow “explorers” too…especially the Hebrew/Old Testament class.  I toured the campus and found it lovely, stately, and also intimidating.  Married student housing was in a series of apartment buildings that had been given to the Seminary in the 1960’s because they were no longer good enough for low-income housing for the town. I keep getting that “sinking sand” feeling the whole time I was there.  Something kept telling me this was NOT my best option.  

I returned to Houston, resolved that I would attend nearby Fuller Seminary, and do all the work they expected.  This seemed to me to be the most “solid rock” of my three options.

It may come as no surprise to any of you that my plan was not of God.  Instead, through a series of amazing events, I was accepted to Princeton three months after their enrollment for the fall semester of 2009 had been closed.  It is a long story that I won’t bore you with today.  But my decision NOT to attend Princeton was obviously not from God.  Instead, the Lord led me back to that choice and closed all the other doors.

Jeanne and I had a marvelous time at Princeton, I learned a lot, and they accepted ALL my transfer work.  I was done and graduated in 20 months.  Then we returned home to Houston, where I was almost immediately introduced to someone who wanted to talk to me about Heritage.

That’s just my own example, dear friends.  

It proves that sometimes I can’t recognize building on sand vs. building on solid rock.

It also proved Gamaliel’s profound point: if it is from God, you will not be able to stop it; instead, you will find yourself fighting against God.

That’s one of my stories.  I’ll bet some of you also have your own.  I would love to get together sometime and hear them.

Or share them with your friends and fellow saints right here in this room.

Solid rock vs. sinking sand…if it is from God, you can’t stop it.