“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.” Matthew 7:24-27
How many of us have attended a Christian conference? We’ve filled in the blanks to our notes. We scribbled insights and applications in the margins. We’ve even dutifully gathered all the handouts, inserting them in our binders. Renewed and determined, we’ve returned home, binder in hand. For a few days the binder sits on a counter, testimony to our wonderful experience, awaiting our promised attention. The days turn into weeks, perhaps weeks to months. Now in the way, but still a cherished possession, we put the binder on a shelf. We’ll get to it someday. Then, we stumble across it again, now a bit dusty. That was a great time. We’d love to do it again someday.
All too common an experience, but something our Lord Jesus will not allow. The story of the wise man who builds his house on the rock and the foolish fellow who chooses sand for his foundation is more than a nice little conclusion to body of teaching called The Sermon on the Mount. Through it our Lord forces the issue. He does not allow us to put aside the binder.
Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon has an edge to it, an adversarial edge. “You have heard it said… but I say.” He contrasts approaches to righteousness. He warns us against false prophets. Throughout we feel the tug of either-or. Now at Sermon’s end, our Lord presents another contrast. He presses the question: Where do you stand? Which kingdom will you seek?
Our Lord identifies two building contractors for us, one wise and one foolish. The wise man operates in the fear of the Lord. God is his point of reference. He follows God’s direction. He seeks God’s glory.
The foolish builder builds as he thinks best. Not that he doesn’t listen to anyone else. He does. But those he listens to are those who say what he wants to hear. The foolish man deems himself the arbiter of right and wrong, good and bad, true and false.
Our Lord says that the foolish man builds on sand. Is he really that stupid? Anyone can see the folly of that. No, he’s not stupid. He’s foolish. No doubt he thinks he is building on solid ground as he gives ear to popular opinion or the latest scientific speculation or religious plurality or his own sense of fairness.
But the wise man admits he is error-prone and in needed of God’s direction. Like a pilot flying at night does not rely on ground bearings, so the wise man building in this dark world employs the direction of the light of God’s Word.
Two Building Plans
The wise man knows to build on firm foundation, and he knows how to build. He does so by hearing the Word of God and putting it into practice. Orthodoxy and orthopraxis—both are necessary, one deficient without the other.
The first thing we need to hear if we would be wise builders is the claim of the Sermon. Jesus is the Messiah of God. The righteousness necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven is found exclusively in Him. His kingdom will endure, unlike the kingdom all are born into. Upon hearing this, we need the orthopraxis of repentance and faith. Jesus is the foundation (1 Cor. 3:11), apart from which no one can stand.
Hear and do. The building plan of wisdom. We have problems in both areas today. We neglect God’s Word. We neglect its practice.
I hear the lament of the church that it is a challenge relating truth to the world today because the world is biblically-illiterate. People don’t know the stories of the Bible. They don’t know their way around the Bible. Yet, the church itself is rapidly approaching functional illiteracy.
Professing believers own a Bible, probably more than one. But they don’t read it. They don’t study it. They don’t meditate on it or wrestle with the text. They turn to their Bibles for inspirational tidbits. The user’s manual of Psalm 119 that exclaims the virtues of God’s Word over its 176 verses itself lies unused, too long to read.
Not knowing the Bible, believers today have little acquaintance with its Author and a superficial grasp of its Subject, the Word incarnate.
On top of that, what they do know they do not put into practice. It remains in their binder, though, available—and that’s good enough. It’s remarkable that Christians lament the encroachment on their religious freedom in our country today, but don’t avail themselves of the freedom they do have. No greater freedom is found than truth applied.
One Building Inspection
How do we know if what we’ve built will stand? What is the storm to which Jesus refers?
Certainly, the storm of final judgment is in view. How can anyone stand on the Day of Judgment? Only by hearing that Jesus is the Christ and taking refuge in Him by faith.
Jesus talks a lot about judgment. In the Sermon He speaks of hell and destruction. Elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, He tells us that the day will come when angels will separate the evil from the righteous, and the evil will be thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In saying these things, Jesus is not entertaining us like some dystopian novel. Rather, He is soberly warning us to take stock of our hope and the foundation on which we stand.
But there is another storm, the storms of regular life in this fallen world as we await that Day.
Let me share an observation as a pastor. I have walked with many who have experienced tragedy. I’ve striven with those in the midst of great distress, with no relief in sight. Health issues have overtaken some like a pack of wolves. Others have been buried in an avalanche of financial woes, barely able to breathe. Some as soon as they get to their feet from being battered by a wave of the storm, are knocked to the ground again, gasping for air.
My observation is this: those who have stockpiled God’s Word in their hearts and brought it to bear in their lives in the ordinary course of life are those who stand firm in the extremes. Those who are hearers of the Word and practitioners of it on sunny days are those who remain rooted and secure in tempest. Though they bend to the ground as trees in relentless wind, they remain intact, girded with the practical theology of God’s presence, providence, purpose, promises and power.
More than that, they remain assured and strengthened in the faith. As Calvin puts it, “True piety is not fully distinguished from its counterfeit till it comes to trial.”
Those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice are those who will stand firm in the storms of this life and the storm of the age, judgment to come.