"Building Upon the Rock"
(Delivered Sunday, June 26, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
This morning, we come to the concluding words of our Lord's Sermon on The Mount. They are words that many of us already consider familiar. In fact, many of us sung little songs as children that came from these closing words. But as familiar as they may be, we should never forget that they are also profoundly serious.
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Before I read them to you, let me tell you about something stupid that I did not long ago. (That, I suspect, is always a good way to get your attention!) I don't always enjoy telling everyone about the dumb things I sometimes do. Actually, I don't EVER enjoy it. But in this case, it serves as a pretty good illustration of what Jesus says in this morning's passage.
As some of you know, I have a large string base violin. It was in bad need of new strings not long ago; so I went to a local music store and bought a set. I wanted to get the big fiddle all fixed up and ready for use at some special events. But when I bought the strings, the music store owner sized me up and asked me who was putting them on. (I think that he was skeptical of my abilities.) I've changed guitar strings countless times, though; and I thought, "Well; how hard can a base violin be? It's much bigger! And there are fewer strings! How can you mess THAT up?" He sold me the strings - somewhat reluctantly; but as he handed them to me, he told me, "Be sure that, when you change them, you change them one at a time."
Now, I felt a little insulted by that. It's pretty simple, isn't it? You start with the big one, then put on a smaller one, then a smaller one, and then the smallest. I thought to myself, "Does he think I'm that dumb? I think I can keep them all in the right order!" But I politely thanked him for the information - information that, I thought, was obviously unnecessary; and that I didn't feel all that obliged to follow.
Well; once I got home with the new strings, I immediately got to work. I took all the old strings off, inserted the new strings into place, set the wooden bridge under the strings, and began to tighten. Everything was going fine, until - "SNAP". Then I learned why he told me to put on the strings one at a time. The tension of all the new strings broke the wooden bridge in two! It wasn't because he didn't think I could figure out the order of the strings; it was so that I wouldn't bust the bridge. I called him up - and THAT took courage! - and explained my problem. And I'm not sure, but I think I could actually 'hear' him over the phone rolling his eyes and shaking his head! What's more, he let me know that there was no way he could replace the bridge in time. I was stuck.
I learned a hard lesson that day. I heard what the "expert" told me; but I didn't do what he said - and I ended up looking like a fool. I wonder if you've ever done anything like that. There isn't anything wrong with your ears, of course. You heard the advice perfectly; and you even understood what it was that you were supposed to do. The real problem was with your will. You didn't do what you heard to do.
I thought of that incident when I read this morning's passage; except, when it comes to the matter that Jesus speaks of, the danger of hearing without doing becomes much more serious. Jesus said,
"Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who build his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall (Matthew 7:24-27).
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Take a look at that word "Therefore" in verse 24. This word points our attention back to all that Jesus has said to us in this sermon. It marks off what He is about to say as "concluding remarks" to all that He had just finished saying. Jesus even makes that very clear to us when He says, "Therefore whoever hears these sayings [or "words"] of Mine . . ."
And before we go any further, let's make a couple of observations. First, we should notice how this shows us the whole context of these words. The context is the whole sermon - not just bits and pieces of it. One of the great traps people often fall into with the Sermon on The Mount is that they pick out and quote their favorite portions, but ignore the parts that they don't like. Here, Jesus is calling us to put into action all of what He has said.
Almost everyone likes certain portions - such as the Beatitudes (5:3-12), or the so-called Lord's Prayer (6:9-13), or our Lord's instructions about not worrying about our lives - what we shall eat, or what we shall drink, or about what we shall wear (6:25-34). Even unbelieving people cherish those portions. But many of the same people who say they like those portions will also strongly dislike such portions as His command that strictly limits divorce (5:31-32), or His words that forbid our doing righteous deeds to be seen and praised by men (6:1-8; 16-18); or His stern warning to enter through the narrow gate and to travel on the difficult way that leads to eternal life (7:13-14). And Jesus, when He says, "Therefore . . . these sayings of Mine", takes away our ability to pick and choose the portions we like and ignore the rest. What He is about to say applies to ALL His words in the Sermon on The Mount.
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Second, we should notice how this shows us the vital relationship with Himself that's involved in these words. Jesus doesn't simply say, "Therefore whoever hears these sayings . . ." Rather, He is very specific; ". . . these sayings of Mine". In fact, in the original language, the word translated "of Mine" is in the emphatic position. He is stressing the relation these words have to Himself. They are His; and He cannot be separated from them.
Many people in the past have admired Jesus' sermon as teaching a pure system of ethics in an abstract sense; one that can be drawn from and applied to life apart from a relationship by faith with Him. One of the most famous individuals to attempt to do this was the great Russian novelist Count Leo Tolstoy. He sought to build his life around the teachings of the Sermon on The Mount, but without having a personal relationship by faith with the One who gave them. And he reached the end of his life with a sense of frustration and failure. Others have attempted to do the same. I met a psychologist once in Seattle who attempted to build his practice around the Sermon on The Mount, while at the same time very consciously seeking to keep Jesus out of it. But this can't be done.
Jesus makes Himself a vital part of all that He says in this sermon. He made it all dependent upon His own authority. He said, "Don't think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (5:17). He kept saying things like, "You have heard that it was said to those of old . . . But I say to you . . ." He said that many people would not be permitted to enter the kingdom of heaven because He didn't know them (7:23). And even the people who heard Him were astonished at His teaching, "for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes" (7:28-29). The Scribes simply quoted other scholars; but Jesus didn't quote anyone else. The Scribes' teaching was derivative; but His was original, and dependent upon His own identity as the Son of God.
In fact, if Jesus were not the very Son of God, then the words He speaks in this morning's would stand out as among the most arrogant and prideful words ever spoken. He said that the wise man is the man who does what He says in this sermon; and the foolish man - doomed to destruction and final ruin - is the man who does not do what He says in this sermon. But Jesus makes this claim, because He makes Himself inseparably central to His teaching. His words of teaching in this sermon cannot be properly understood or applied apart from a vital relationship with Himself through faith.
I really must stress the importance of this. And here's the reason why: We mustn't think that we can simply pick out bits of this great sermon and try to apply them to our lives, as if we can make ourselves acceptable to God by obeying them. A part of the teaching of this sermon is the fact that we cannot obey them on our own power. Jesus' standard was established in 5:20 - ". . . Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." In fact, Jesus hints at this even further when He says, "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (5:48). That means that none of us can make ourselves acceptable to God by obeying the Sermon on The Mount.
But this reminds us that one of the things that Jesus teaches us in this sermon is that righteousness before God comes as a result of seeking it as a gift of God's grace. Jesus told us at the very beginning of it all, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" (5:6). It comes, not to those who "earn" it (because no one can), but to those who hunger and thirst for a righteousness they do not have and who then cry out to God for it. They seek it as a gift, and are given the gift of righteousness by God's grace through faith in Jesus. And then, having received the gift of Jesus' own righteousness by faith, they go on to follow Him in a life of obedience - not in order to earn righteousness before God, but because it has already been given to them as a free gift.
Righteousness is a gift of God's grace that comes through a personal relationship by faith with Christ. It comes to those to whom Jesus says, "I know you" (7:21-23). And Jesus' teaching about this vital relationship is one of the things that is implied in Jesus' words "Therefore . . . whoever hears these sayings of Mine . . ."
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And thirdly, we should notice how these words "Therefore . . . whoever hears these sayings of Mine . . ." shows us that an unavoidable obligation is involved. This is because He goes on to say, ". . . Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them . . ."
Many people simply won't read the Bible. They will often say that it's because it isn't interesting to them; and yet this can't be the case, because they will gladly give themselves over to a multitude of other things that are far less interesting that words spoken to them by the God of the universe! Or other people will say that they don't read the Bible because it's too hard to understand; and yet this can't be true either, because the same people will spend many hours studying complicated tax information or instruction manuals on how to operate sophisticated computer software. Some folks say, "I can't read the Bible, because I just don't have time"; and yet, they have lots of time for other things in their lives that are far less important.
I've come to a conclusion about all this. The real reason people who know that they should read their Bible won't do so is because it's too dangerous a thing to read. It's dangerous because it demands that you do something about what you have read. You have to obey it and apply it to your life. The truth presented to us in God's word is not meant to simply "read". It must be "put into practice" and "acted upon". The apostle John said, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth" (1 John 1:6). It's meant to be "practiced". John said, "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (2:4). The apostle James said,
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25).
The Lord did not speak the words He spoke in the Sermon on The Mount in order to give us pretty sayings and quotes to be admired. He didn't see that we needed some nice words to hang in office cubicals and print on our coffee mugs. He meant for these words to be translated into action. And these words that Jesus speaks at the conclusion of the sermon make that abundantly clear. Once we hear these words, we make ourselves into "fools" if we do not do what they say.
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I'd say that this Sermon on The Mount is the most decisive sermon ever preached; wouldn't you? And in these closing words, Jesus presents us with an analogy. He uses the picture of two men building two houses as a way of teaching us the importance of putting His words into practice. Let's look at these two men, and first notice . . .
1. THE SIMILARITIES.
I notice that, in Jesus' picture, the two men are both engaged in the same activity. They are both building houses. We are told of no difference between the houses that they are building. For all we know, the houses may have looked exactly alike. And we're not told of anything different between the abilities of the two men to build their houses. For all we know, they may have both been excellent craftsmen as far as their work on the superstructure of the houses goes. Furthermore, it even appears that they built their houses in the same sort of locations. Apparently the same sort of natural forces struck the two houses.
What's more, these two builders are symbolic of two kinds of people. And the thing that they have in common is that both of them "hear" Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on The Mount. Both of them heard exactly the same words from exactly the same Lord.
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When I think of these similarities. I can't help but think of the similarities there are between those who are truly Christians, and those who are "Christians" in mere name only. It's sometimes hard to tell them apart. They both go to church. They both hear the same sermons or attend the same Bible classes. Often, they both study and read the Bible on their own. They bow their heads at the same prayers. Often, they even say prayers in much the same way. They talk the same kind of talk. They profess the same kinds of doctrines. And what's more - as we learned from Jesus' words in verses 21-23 - they may even both profess the same Lord.
There are many similarities between the false Christian and the true one. Both of the houses that they are building look the same. But this points our attention to . . .
2. THE DIFFERENCE.
The difference is not readily seen. But it is there; and it is profound!
In the case of Jesus' analogy, the difference is found in what the houses are resting on. That's not something that you can necessarily see just by looking at the house on a superficial level. By all outward appearances, the houses may look the same; but that's because you can't see the foundation of a house just by looking. And as it turns out, one man's house - the wise man's - was founded on solid rock; while the other man's house - the foolish man's - was founded on sand.
And again, Jesus' analogy is meant to illustrate two kinds of people with respect to His teaching. Both men heard Jesus' words; and on a superficial level, the differences between them couldn't be readily seen. But on closer examination, one man heard what Jesus said, and then did what Jesus said; while the other man heard what Jesus said, and didn't do what Jesus said. Both men acted from out of their own will based on what they heard; but one chose to take action, and the other chose not to. The man who did what Jesus said had built his life on a good, solid foundation; while the other had built his life on that which wouldn't endure.
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As I read this, I wondered why it might be that someone would be so foolish as to ignore the need for a good foundation when building a house. I can suggest several reasons. One reason might be because they were only concerned to get a house up for appearances-sake that lasts only for the short-term. I suspect that this might be why many merely "professing" Christians have built their lives without the foundation of obedience to Jesus' word. They go to the places that a Christian goes; and say the things that a Christian says; and read the things that a Christian reads. But they're simply after appearances. They didn't mean to really BE followers of Jesus; because that requires doing what He said. They just wanted to look like followers of Jesus - without being concerned with whether or not they really ARE followers of Jesus.
I suspect that another reason someone might ignore the need of a good foundation is because they were in too much of a hurry to build. They felt the pressing need to get a house up quickly. And similarly, many people are hoping for Christianity to be a "quick-fix". They aren't concerned about the long-term commitment of being a disciple, so much as they are about getting certain problems in life taken care of in a hurry. They don't realize that a true Christian faith is something that shows its benefits over the long-haul. It involves a daily walk with Jesus in which He - in His time and in His way - deals with the problems. Many don't want to wait for such a foundation to be laid; because real Christian faith requires learning to "wait" on the Lord as we do what He says.
Another reason I suppose that someone would ignore the need of a good foundation is that it takes too much work to establish a foundation. It's not the attractive part of the job. Laying a good foundation involves removing rocks and trees, and leveling out land. It involves a lot of careful planning and dirty work. Similarly I suspect that many don't want to lay the foundation of a real Christian life because it requires too much effort and demands to much of a cost to do so. Jesus said,
"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of men. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37-39).
For some, the demands of laying a true foundation for the Christian life is more than they wish to pay; because it requires that we follow behind Him and do what He says. It requires laying down one's life, and taking up one's own cross and following Him. And so, they don't bother to lay a foundation at all.
I would have to say that some people don't build a foundation for the Christian life because they don't like what that foundation must be. In the end, the foundation is a Person who demands to be our Lord as well as our Savior. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ - whose death on the cross shows us how God feels about our sin. Paul said, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11). Paul said that the church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20). Many, as I've suggested before, want to have the teachings of Jesus without the Jesus of the teachings. They want to be in control of their own "Christian" lives; and do not wish to relinquish complete control of their lives to Jesus. The Bible says, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone" (1 Peter 2:7; also Psalm 118:22); and yet, many, having rejected the only foundation stone, seek to build anyway.
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Now, the types of foundation of the two houses may be somewhat hidden from view. But it's not that they are completely hidden. The fact is that they can be known. Look at how they're proven. They're proven by the trials of rain, and flood waters, and of wind. A lot of preachers have sought symbolism in these different things; but I think it's best just to view them as pictures of the trials of life in general.
God permits the trials of life to come into the believer's life in order to prove the genuineness of the foundation. Peter says that we are to greatly rejoice in our hope in Christ; "though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7). The world looks on, and sees the difference. And we can look, and see the difference too.
And all this leads us to . . .
3. THE RESULTS.
The results are truly dramatic. When the trials of rain, flood waters and wind strike against the house that is built on sand, the house falls. Jesus says, "And great was its fall"; meaning a terrible crash; a complete downfall; a total and final ruin. I think here of the parable that our Savior told:
"The ground of a certain man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21).
Great and ruinous is the fall of the house NOT built on Christ! This is not only true during the time of trial; but it's true in an ultimate sense! That's a horrible thing to think about. But let's not forget to think about the other house. It stands. The trials of rain, flood and wind did not bring it down; because it was built on the solid rock. And what's more, it stands on the day of judgment!
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One man is wise; and the other is a fool. And the only difference between them is that one heard the words of Jesus and did them, and the other heard the same words and didn't do them.
And because this is a matter of how the houses are founded, the difference isn't something that can be seen in a merely superficial way. But the difference can be known. In fact, I believe that the whole reason Jesus is saying all this now is BECAUSE the difference can be known NOW. We can do something about it today. We can know were we really stand - if we truly want to. We can know whether or not we're a mere "professing" Christian, or a real one. We can know if we will fall apart on the day of trial, or if we will stand. We can know if we will be rejected on the day of judgment, or if we will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus' whole point in all this is to help us to know how we can examine ourselves and see where we stand. And this is the test: Do you - as a practice of your life - have your faith in Jesus and do what He says? If so, you are building your Christian life on a foundation that will last. If you say that you have faith in Jesus Christ, but - as a regular practice of your life - you follow other things than Jesus; if you hear His teaching, but do not do what He says; then you are not built on a foundation that will last.
Your foundation will be tested. There are three ways: (1) It will be tested in the time of trial; (2) It will be tested on the day of judgment; and (3) It can be tested right now by your own self-examination. Did you know that the Bible calls you to test yourself now? Paul says, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Those are hard words, to be sure. But I know some even harder ones - when Jesus says, "I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:23).
So, ask yourself now - when you still have the chance to do so: "What is my foundation? Upon what is my life built? Is my trust in the cross of Jesus Christ? Is that my vital trust right now and in an ongoing way? Is He my 'cornerstone'? When I pick up my Bible and read what it says to do, do I faithfully do it? Perhaps I fail at times; but then, do I get right back up and go forward again in obedience - with trust in His forgiveness and help? Do I find Christ - His Person, His commandments, His promises - to be my mainstay in times of trial? Do trials cause me to fall apart; or do I find myself increasingly standing strong in them through the strength Christ supplies? Do I find myself increasingly turning away from lesser things, and turning to Him instead?"
There are only two foundations. Which one are you resting on?
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