Any good speaker knows the power of Word Pictures. Word pictures allow us to illustrate a truth by drawing an analogy with something else. For example you might say your new car has a ride that is as smooth as silk. Or perhaps in a time of crisis you might say you feel like you have been hit by a Mack Truck. Those pictures convey truth in an effective way.
As the greatest of teachers Jesus used word pictures better than anyone. As we come to the end of Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” Jesus piles a number of word pictures on top of each other to drive home His point.
Jesus had been teaching that those who truly follow Him will live lives that travel a different path than the rest of the world. I remind you that Jesus has told us that we should
- Embrace what the world despises (beatitudes)
- We should resist the things the world cherishes (woes)
- We should love those the world tells us to cast aside
- We should be accepting rather than judgmental
- We should be characterized by forgiveness and generosity
To drive home His points Jesus drew five pictures.
The Blind Man and the Teacher
The first two pictures illustrate the same point.
“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Imagine a blind person standing at a busy highway needing to get across six lanes of traffic. A person walks by and asks the passerby to help him get across the street. The problem is that this person is blind also. In this case, the first blind man is no better than off than he was before the second man came his way. Why? Because if neither person has sight, it doesn’t matter who is leading whom . . . they still will not be able to see where they are going.
Jesus said when the blind lead the blind they will inevitably fall into a pit (which were all over in Israel). Today we might say such a person will end up falling into a pothole.
The second picture is the same point: a student is not above his teacher. In the days of Jesus (when there were no libraries or Internet search engines) your teacher was your main and perhaps sole source of information. If your teacher was not very good you would be limited in what you could learn.
Jesus wants us to understand that we must choose our teachers carefully. If you want to learn about carpentry, auto mechanics, electrical work or a whole host of other things you could come to me to teach you, but you would not get very far in your education (I’ve pretty much exhausted my knowledge after, “when the light switch is up the lights go on…”). If you really want to learn about these things you need to talk to someone who understands them.
When students get together at college they often compare notes on teachers. They want to know which teachers are easy (a bad motivation) and which teachers are interesting and effective. The good teacher usually has a full class. If you want to learn something you need to find a capable teacher.
This is especially true when it comes to spiritual things. If you sit under poor teaching, you will fail to grow and likely become unsound in your thinking. Teachers who have a weak theology will produce students with a weak theology. We must seek out those who can help us grow in the faith.
But how do we know if we have a reliable guide? I think we should ask four questions:
- Is the teacher teaching the Scriptures or are they giving me their philosophy or opinion and using Scriptures to support that opinion? The first starts with the text and draws conclusions from the text; the second starts with a conclusion and looks for a text to support it.
- Are they using the Scriptures appropriately? The only way to tell for sure is to open your Bible and check things out. We need to ask: are the conclusions appropriate from the clear meaning of the text? In the book of Acts, the Bereans were commended because they checked everything Paul taught them.
- Is the teacher giving me the whole counsel of God or have they fixated on only one part of what the Scripture says? Does the teacher preach the same message again and again? If so, it is like a car that has only one tire inflated. You aren’t going to get very far.
- What do you see in those who regularly and faithfully sit under the teacher? Jesus said a student will not get beyond the teacher. This is not as true today as it was in the day of Jesus. Today a student can find resources in a library, bookstore or on the Internet that can help them sit under many teachers. However there is still a valid principle here. You can learn a great deal about a teacher by looking at those who sit under that teaching. If the students are all judgmental it may be because the leader is judgmental. If none of the students are Biblically solid it is likely that the teacher is not teaching from the Scriptures. And on the other side, if there is a joyful spirit in the people, if they are hungry to learn the truth and follow the Lord, then that too reflects upon the leadership.
If the teacher doesn’t pass in all these questions, you need to find a new teacher.
The Plank and the Sawdust
The next word picture reveals the sense of humor of Jesus.
41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Imagine a homeowner complaining to his neighbor about the random sticks that are lying in his yard while the homeowner continues to ignore the huge tree that has toppled into his own yard.
Jesus is not saying that we should not make any judgments until we are perfect. He is not saying that we should never seek to correct someone. Jesus is addressing our attitude. The person who has the right attitude always looks first at their own heart. We should approach each other with the humility that comes from an awareness of our own weaknesses and struggles.
The Tree and Its Fruit
The third picture builds on the first two.
43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Jesus says what you find on the outside is a good indication of what a person is on the inside. Eugene Peterson paraphrases this way: “It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.” [Message] In other words, you can’t hide who you really are. No matter what image you try to project to others, who you really are will come out in the things you say and do.
Those who study body language have learned that there are certain physical and bodily responses that come from what is called the limbic regions of the brain. These are involuntary non-verbal responses. In other words, the trained observer can tell whether you are lying or telling the truth, comfortable or uncomfortable, just by looking at your eyes, mouth, hands, and feet. There are certain “tells” or clues that cannot be disguised. One FBI agent interviewed a man trying to learn about his partner in a crime. The criminal refused to say anything. However, when the FBI showed him various pictures of people they suspected as partners the man’s subtle non-verbal responses to the pictures revealed who his partners were without him saying a word.
Jesus is telling us that if we watch someone’s life, we can learn about their heart. We should be suspicious about the spiritual state of a person who cannot stop using profanity, who is always critical, who loves to gossip, is dishonest in business, or who does not fulfill their promises. Jesus says “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”. We see what a person really is by the things they say and do.
Don’t get me wrong. We all have bad days. No one has it together all the time. However, if you observe a person for long enough you will see certain patterns and tendencies develop. In Galatians 5 we are told that the fruit of the spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When we begin to see these traits in a person’s life you learn something about their heart. If you want to know about a person’s character here are some good questions to ask:
- How do they respond in a crisis?
- What do they do when they are frustrated?
- Do they keep their promises and fulfill their responsibilities?
- How do they handle power and authority?
- How do they treat their spouse and children?
- How do they respond when people disagree with them?
- What gets priority in their time and attention?
- Do the people around them seem tense or relaxed? Do others speak about the person in positive or negative terms?
These questions give us a window into the soul of a person. Now . . . here’s the test. Turn these questions around and ask them of yourself. They will give you a glimpse into your own character.
In the final word picture Jesus powerfully illustrates the difference between a true Christ follower and one who is only pretending.
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”
The picture is clear. Two men build homes. One built his house on the sand. It was probably faster, easier, less-expensive and looked just like all the homes of his friends. The other man took time to find solid rock to use as a foundation for his home. It took this man more time, more effort, and more money, and when he was finished his home didn’t look any different from all the other houses (in fact, because of the added expense his home may have seemed lesser than the others). People may have ridiculed the second man for wasting time and money. However, when a fierce storm came into their cul-de-sac the house built on the sand washed away. The house built on the rock may have been a little nicked up but it withstood the storm and remained standing.
Jesus said the person who built on the rock is like the person who not only hears the words of Jesus, but they also obey them. In Matthew 7 Jesus amplified on this idea. He said,
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Listen carefully to what Jesus is saying. He says on the last day there will be people who call him Lord; there will be people who testified in His name; there will even be people who drove out demons and performed miracles; to whom the Lord will say, “I never knew you.” They said the right words and they did amazing works. We would spotlight these people. They would sell a million books and would probably have their own TV program. However, JESUS says He does not know them. They did not really belong to Him. The reason is that their faith was only a veneer; it was superficial.
This has been a common sin: profession without practice. God said to Ezekiel,
31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. [Ezekiel 33:31-32]
The point is that a declaration of Faith and a commitment to trust Christ are not the same thing! We have often missed this distinction. We have put our emphasis on getting a person to pray a prayer or say certain words. We wait for people to walk an aisle, be baptized, or join the church. These are all good things but they are superficial things.
We measure effectiveness and sincerity by whether people sing enthusiastically, shed a tear, or profess they have been deeply touched or are learning a lot. Jesus warns us that these are not accurate tests of a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. The real test of faith is found in how a person lives his/her life. The point is this: it is easy to profess faith in Christ. Doing what He says IS faith in Christ. It makes sense if you think about it. We truly trust Him when we live in a trusting way. When we are willing to subject our own will to His directives. . . . we show that we truly believe.
When a coach instructs a player on to how to perform some skill, the player can nod and tell the coach that they understand. They may even be able to repeat what the coach has said. However, the coach will know the athlete actually does understand when he sees the player doing what He told him to do in a game.
Jesus says those who obey are the people who continue to stand in the midst of a storm. The storms come in many forms: a sudden death, a devastating diagnosis, an economic catastrophe, the loss of a job, legal problems, false (or even true) accusations, family tensions, mental struggles and even times of spiritual dryness when God seems far away. In these times those with a superficial faith will crumble. The house of the true believer may lose some shingles and have a little storm damage . . . but their house will keep standing.
May I ask? How do you respond to these word pictures? Do they make sense or do they make you angry?
Jesus understood that we will never change the world by our words, our committees, our programs or our petitions. People will come to Jesus when they see that the people who truly follow Him are transformed. When people see that there is a difference between being religious and following Jesus then they will be inclined to turn to the Lord themselves.
So let’s do a personal inventory,
- Are you devoting yourself to the solid teaching of the world or are you giving your mind and heart to the junk of the world around us? Who has your ear? Is it Congress, talk radio, the news media, Hollywood, your friends, or public opinion? Or is your ear tuned to the Spirit and Word of God? What generates the strongest response: God’s word or the words of men?
- Are you spending all your time pointing to the faults of others or are you spending time in front of the mirror addressing the problems in your own backyard? If you do the later you will be much more compassionate as you relate to others.
- If you took an objective look at the way you live your life would you see the growing consistency of a child of God or would you see someone who looks just like everyone else? What fruit does your life bear? Is it good fruit or rotten fruit? Can other people see Jesus in the way you live your life?
- On what are you building your foundation? Be careful as you answer! Don’t settle for the easy answers. Look at your calendar and your checkbook. Look at where you thoughts tend to drift in idle moments. Look at those things you generally talk about when you are with your friends. What things energize you? The answer to these questions will give you an idea of what you are truly building your life upon.
Jesus gives us these word pictures so that we will see the truth more clearly. He wants us to remember that when all is said and done, the Christian life is not so much a question of whether or not you know Jesus . . . it’s a question of whether or not He knows you.