Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin recently revealed the reason for Russia’s failure last November to launch a $45 million weather satellite into orbit.
The rocket dumped with weather satellite and 18 smaller satellites belonging to Russia, Norway, Sweden, the US, Japan, Canada and Germany in the ocean instead of in space.
The rocket actually functioned perfectly. There was nothing wrong with the launch, which went flawlessly. The rocket took off from the new Vostochny spaceport in Amur near the border with China in the far east.
What went wrong was this. The rocket thought it was taking off from Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan, which is 6,500 kilometres away. Just a small mistake, but the consequences were huge.
Construction of a white marble campanile began on August 14, 1173, in Italy. By the time the second story was completed five years later the tower had started to lean. The problem was that the builders had not made the foundations strong enough. One side started to sink. Even so, after a long pause they continued to build. Today the tower is a great tourist attraction and has made Pisa famous.
What is true for the physical world is true for the spiritual world. If we don’t get our starting place in life right, our life will go wrong and however well we live it will end badly. If we don’t have a good foundation for life, our life will tilt and fall.
This principle is not news to anyone who has read the Bible. I realise I’m telling you something you already know. I want to remind you just how important it is to get your foundations right, and to correct them if they are wrong.
Jesus says our foundation must be solid rock. That is an illustration. We are building spiritual things. The tower of Pisa would not be leaning today if it had been built on rock. The Russian rocket would not have been lost if it had been launched on the foundation of truth.
What is the foundation upon which you are building your understanding of the Bible? What is the foundation upon which you are building your relationship with your spouse?
What other things are you building, and what is the foundation of those things?
Let’s take for example how we understand the Bible. Where do we start? What is our foundation for understanding the Bible?
If you have the wrong foundation you can memorise the entire Bible and still go wrong.
I started to read the Bible as a teenager. I don’t recall being given a foundation for my reading or shown how to understand what I was reading. I kept running into roadblocks. When I hit a roadblock I would stop. I might ask my friends. One time we had a long and animated discussion about ghosts. It seemed to last for weeks. Had we seen a ghost? Had anyone we knew seen a ghost? Did ghosts really exist? What kind of ghost was the holy ghost? And so on!
Without correct directions, we quickly got lost. The Bible has a different direction than the one we were trying to take. It does not exist to answer questions such this. So where can we find the correct direction?
I think that one answer is to ask the Bible. Scholars who spend their lives studying the Holy Book ask questions such as who wrote a passage. They ask why it was written, and what influenced the way it was written. They look at the culture. That can be helpful.
We believe the Bible can tell us things about the past and future. It is the story of God from creation to the end of time. We do not believe the purpose of the Bible is as a history book. The Bible is a spiritual book. It is God’s word. There we have part of our foundation. The Bible is the word of God spoken to the human race.
The New Testament has a couple of ways of talking about the foundation of understanding, the foundation of living.
It is written in 1 Corinthians 3:11, 12 –
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw.”
Jesus, the Messiah, is the foundation. Without Jesus you don’t have the foundation on which to build an understanding of the Bible. Whatever you build, whether it is a better relationship with your spouse or a better house, Jesus is the starting point. You can build with gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw, but you have to have Jesus as the foundation.
It is written in Ephesians 2:20 –
“Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.”
In these verses we are told that God lives in a house that is built out of people. Not just any people. Not people with special blood or ancestry. It is built out of those who are members of God’s family. In this view the foundation is made strong and straight by the corner stone, which is Jesus himself. Jesus is the first stone of the house of God. We are the other stones.
Jesus is the foundation of everything. He is the foundation of life and holiness. He is also the foundation for understanding the Bible. We cannot hope to understand the Bible without the directions given by Jesus. For example, my teenage self should have come to Jesus to ask what is meant by Holy Ghost. These days our translations say Holy Spirit to help avoid the confusion, but we still need Jesus as the foundation to understand.
When we do this, we stop struggling to understand in isolation.
We begin to learn that when we examine the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit it all looks different. Suddenly the Bible is not talking about various ghosts, but about the work of salvation. This is called a Christocentric reading of the Bible.
Augustine of Hippo and Paul of Tarsus both emphasised this way of thinking in their teaching.
We do not dispute with scholars who say there are various authors and voices in the Bible, but we say they all were inspired by God to tell us about his story. When we find in the creation story some questions, we find in Jesus the answers.
When we wonder if God is angry all the time because man is so evil, we look at Jesus. Looking at Jesus we quickly see that God is in love all the time. We see from Jesus that God is love. Love is his nature. God has no freedom to not love, because he is love and in him is no contradiction.
What that looks like in action, being lived out in this evil world, is what we see in Jesus. No thunderbolts are thrown when people insult him or betray him. Gentleness in strength is what we see. And healing and mercy for enemies. Jesus is the example of God living in this world. All that God did in this world before the birth of Jesus is to be understood this way.
Jesus used the rocky foundation as an illustration for the real foundation of everything. He said in Luke 6:47, “I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.”
What it looks like, Jesus said, is a solid foundation for a house. The real foundation is Jesus. Not just admitting he is real. Not just accepting that he was crucified, buried and resurrected. Not even believing he went up to heaven, where he is still alive. From up there he sent us fire – the Holy Spirit that burns and purifies and empowers his followers. It’s important to know that.
All of these things are important. They are not most important. Jesus says there is more. The essence, the key, the foundation is to come to him, listen to him and obey him. That relationship with Jesus is the sure foundation, and that relationship gives you the correct direction for everything else in life.
Anything less than this, says Jesus in verse 49, and your life “will collapse into a heap of ruins.”
Come to Jesus. Listen to Jesus. Obey Jesus.