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‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.’
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
A passage like this one is going to make us feel deeply uncomfortable. Our normal response is to run from discomfort, but when you think about it, all of the good things we enjoy in life come through discomfort. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable.
But why are we going to experience this discomfort?
For one thing, Jesus is pushing us to a decision. He is laying out your options and calling on you to decide. Now, if you think about it, there are too few opportunities in life to make life-changing decisions. We tend to drift from one thing to another, and then midlife hits us and we take a moment to really think. But why not think now?
The fact that this decision is binary—an either/or—is also a factor that makes us uncomfortable. Our culture prefers multiple options and combinations, not the kind of black and white distinctions Jesus offers. But he often speaks this way, calling us friends or enemies, builders or destroyers, sheep or goats. And when you’re a fairly normal person trying to live a fairly normal life, it can feel quite unnatural to be told that you’re either his friend or his enemy.
The very fact that Jesus centres all of this upon himself, making himself the dividing line, calling on people to hear and obey ‘these words of mine’ is further cause for discomfort.
But the mere fact that Jesus’ teaching may make us uncomfortable does not mean it is not true. And given the extraordinary importance of the warning Jesus gives us, we must listen carefully. What is he teaching?
1. You can build on rock
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. (v.24-25)
Who is Jesus describing here? We know he isn’t describing churchgoers or those who identify as Christians. He is very clear in saying it is everyone who ‘hears’ and ‘does’ his will. This emphasis on obedience has to do with the fact that faith is not faith unless it gives birth to action. If you don’t act on your faith, you don’t really believe it in the first place. So, Jesus is not speaking about mere note-takers and theorists, he is speaking about practitioners.
He calls these people ‘wise’. Wisdom is not intelligence or knowledge (though it may involve these thing). It is very easy to think of people we know who are intelligent and knowledgeable fools. Wisdom is the ability to make right decisions in the light of the truth. So, in this case, a wise person does not merely know how to build, but where. There are many smart people doing many amazing things in the world, but if they fail to ask (and answer) the most important questions about God and his will, then they are not wise.
And so the picture is of a person who has taken a step back and concluded that a life built upon Christ is the only life worth living. Such a person still does normal things and enjoys normal things, but everything is brought under the service of Jesus.
Jesus wants us to ask the question ‘Does it work?’ Does building your life on Christ work? The infallible test is whether your life can endure suffering in the right way. That is why Jesus speaks of the storm battering the house.
A Christian is a person who has settled the deepest issues of life—knowing God and his love—and so can face any and all circumstances with certainty and confidence. When they suffer, they do not crumble. And it is not because they are inherently strong or gritty, but simply because of what they’re standing on. They have a solid conviction that God works all things (including their suffering) together for their good (Romans 8.28). They have no doubt they are loved, and that God has a good plan. And as a result, they can sleep well (Psalm 3.5).
2. You can’t build on sand
And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (v.26-27)
The question Jesus wants us to ask is this: what am I building my life on, and will it last? Or, to put it differently, what is my life about? What am I pursuing? What defines me?
The brutal reality is that the things most people pursue in life have no lasting worth. If you live for pleasure and happiness you must realise that it is only ‘fleeting’ (Hebrews 11.25). If you live for money, you must acknowledge that you’ll leave it all behind (Luke 12.20). If you live for sexual conquest, the moment the pleasure passes you’re left with bitter regret (Proverbs 5.4). Nothing we run after fills the hole, gives us a sense of lasting peace. And even if we do feel satisfied, these kinds of things cannot help us in eternity.
And yet we’re caught in a Catch 22. The person who does not trust Jesus enough to obey him is also a person who will not listen to his warnings. If I could say one thing to such a person it would be, ‘What about when it all inevitably goes wrong?’ You may be content now, happy now, and feel that your life is on solid ground. But what happens when things start to crumble? What anchor will you have then?
God allows us to suffer and get battered by the storms so that we will, hopefully, come to our senses and realise our need for him and for solid ground.
The greatest tragedy happens when a person lives such an easy and happy life that they are never caused to examine themselves and consider whether they are truly safe. And if suffering does not touch you, death will. The ultimate storm that brings the house down is the moment of death and the certainty that you will face God. At that moment, Jesus is the only safe place.
3. You get to decide where you build
Jesus is not content with admiration. The crowd admire Jesus. It says they ‘were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority’. But they did not admire him enough to do the right thing.
What is Jesus calling for? He wants you to make a decision. This decision can be thought of in two ways. First, it is a one-off decision you make at the start of the Christian life. Like a fork in the road, you either choose ‘Jesus’ or ‘Anything Else’.
Second, it is a daily or ongoing decision you make as you continue on in the Christian life. Every choice we make is either building on Christ or on sand. When we are walking in resistance to the Holy Spirit, and pulling away to the right or the left, we are building on sand. Jesus wants every believer to be called back to him in the sweetness of repentance, and know that a life lived in service to him will not be wasted.
For those of us who are not ready to decide for Christ, not ready to become a Christian, what is holding us back? Perhaps it is fear of the consequences, of having to own the name ‘Christian’, or change our lifestyle, or something? I can only say to you: he’s worth it. For others, it is uncertainty regarding the facts. You may be unsure whether Jesus really was who he said he was, and whether he really died and rose from the dead and can make these absolute claims. To you I would say, keep looking, keep reading, keep talking, keep searching, until you can say with certainty that you know what you believe about Jesus.
Other people wrestle with conflicting desires. You know that to follow Jesus must involve sacrifice, but you’re not ready to give that up, or turn away from that. To you I would say, have you considered whether that thing is really worth it in the end?
Some of us are simply procrastinators. You know you want to follow Jesus, but you tell yourself you will do this when you’re older. For now, you’d sooner get on with life. But why would you put off something as profoundly important as this when you have no real guarantee of tomorrow?
The question Jesus leaves you with as we close our study of this Sermon on the Mount is this: What will you do? What do you need to do today?