“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” — Matthew 7:24-27
Jesus’ final metaphor in the sermon on the mount is as timeless as it is simple. Two men, two houses, two foundations. One storm.
Jesus doesn’t conclude the greatest sermon every told with an appeal to confess sins, an admonition to love all men, or a commission to save the poor and lost. Instead, he shares the secret of withstanding the storms of life.
The two men are contrasted–one is called wise and the other foolish. The litmus test that separates them is not higher education, not greater skill or intellectual prowess. It is simply this–do they act on Jesus’ words, or not?
It cannot be overstated. The way we respond to God’s word is paramount to our faith. It makes all the difference, and nothing else matters by comparison.
“To this one I will look, to him who is humble, and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).
God looks for people who tremble at His word. They don’t just hear it, they fear it.
The wise man hears Jesus’ words and acts on them. He puts it into practice. He listens, evaluates, sees gaps, shortcomings, and he changes his life accordingly. He approaches Jesus’ Words with a soft heart–pliable, willing to bend.
- When Jesus’ word, like a sword (Hebrews 4:12), pokes, penetrates, and reveals hidden secrets and motives, the wise man is OK with that. He is even willing to listen when the Word finds evil and selfishness within those motives. He agrees with it.
- When Jesus’ word, like a mirror (James 1:22-25), shows him misaligned areas of his life, ruffled hair and smudges on his face, the wise man uses that information to make corrections, comb his hair and remove the smudge with a washcloth.
- When Jesus’ word, like a hammer (Jeremiah 23:29), crushes the stone-cold heart, the wise man does not take offense. He feels the blow, suffers the loss, and looks for healing.
The wise man takes time to read word, hardly missing a day. When he reads the word, he inclines his heart to do or accept whatever it says. He always assumes the word is accurate, that its explanations of human behavior and motivation–as harsh as they may be–apply to all men, including himself. He is OK with this kind of critique, because if he is honest, he knows it’s true. He does not grow defensive, but lets the truth drive him to the arms of the gracious Savior, Jesus Christ. He knows any description of God is 100% accurate, so that if God says His mercy reaches to the heavens, he believes that, and builds his knowledge of God on that truth. He reads he word and conforms to it. He changes his daily agenda around it. He takes it to his grave no matter the odds.
By contrast, the foolish man hears the word, but does not act. He treats the word like the man who looks at his face in the mirror, sees the ruffled hair and smudgy face, but simply walks away (James 1:22-25). The foolish man does not honor the word. His heart is hard, unwilling to bend, refusing to be told what to do.
The fool says in his heart, “there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). To the fool, God cannot see the hidden sin and God does not know the inner thought. He is convinced of his own goodness, does not need anyone telling him he has problems. He has clever rationale for deflecting all judgment, changing what could be helpful reproof into evil negativity.
We should not fool ourselves into thinking we never play the fool. Foolishness by definition is knowing the right thing to do, but not doing it. By that definition, any one of us can be foolish any moment of the day. Solomon warns of “the complacency of fools” (Proverbs 1:32). Which one of us has never fallen prey to complacency, letting conviction take a back seat once in awhile? We must be on guard against foolishness–taking lightly the Lord’s words.
To act on Jesus’ words may seem like a daunting task. He said many things. We find His words not only in the sermon on the mount, but arguably throughout the entire Bible. How is a man supposed to act on all of it? First, the sheer impossibility should drive us to a point of dependency on His mercy. He knows we are but leaky buckets, unable to hold at the forefront of our brains every timeless word from the Lord. We cannot possible retain every word His says. So, just like food, we need daily reading to refresh and nourish the soul. Second, God has so constructed His word that every chapter, every line has something important and relevant for you each day. It is a living word, full of intention, and closely watched. You can depend on God to give you what you need each day from little bits of daily reading.
The house represents the life of a man. The works of a man are like building material he assembles above the foundation of his life. Through the years, he builds his house higher and higher, adding decorations, painting the shutters, covering the roof with shingling.
In the end, it’s not the building material, but the foundation that matters. To have a solid foundation, one that is reliable, he must allow Jesus’ words to shape the way he handles money, conducts his business, spends his free time, manages his home, and loves his family.
But in the sunny days, the man who builds on the sand has an easy going compared to the man building on rock. He is unencumbered by moral commitments, restrictions and codes. He sees immediate results and is able to apply money and time to the noticeable aspects of his house. To him, the man building on the rock seems to be having no fun at all, wasting his time chiseling. He smiles when he sees passers-by admiring his grand entrance, expansive deck, and three-season porch.
Meanwhile, the man on the rock begins to wonder if his neighbor didn’t have it right all along. Building on a rock is not easy, especially when things are going so well for the sand-dwellers. Little setbacks can decimate good intentions, cloud judgment. Is there no right or wrong way to do things? Are there no consequences for taking the easy road? Are there no rewards for following the safe building tips? Doubts and frustration set in. They linger and persist.
Then, the storm hits.
Only in the storm does the critical nature of the foundation becomes clear. In a storm, all the decor, design, painted shutters becomes superfluous compared to the foundation. Storms are the unsettling and sometimes scary little catastrophes God drops into our laps when we least expect them. They annoy us, take us away from our routine, and disrupt the order we have created. They shake us like a cup of water, causing whatever is on the inside to spill out.
But storms are not neutral, random things. God intentionally uses storms to test the quality of each man’s work, to purify and refine.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” — James 1:2-3
God’s storms are never pleasant to endure, but they give us great opportunity for reflection and correction if we’re so willing.
In the story, the storm produces dangerously high winds and flash floods. The house built on rock withstands the storm and does not fall. The house on the sand collapses under the heavy wind and flood. For emphasis, Jesus says the fall of this house was “great”.
In the end, the storm is not the catastrophe. The catastrophe is the collapse of the foolish man’s house, symbolism for a collapsing life–that dreadful dark period when unfounded expectations come apart at the seams. Storms are the forcing factor, but the real disaster is the fall of the unfounded life. The collapse of a life can be subtle, like an imprisonment within the walls of despair or anxiety. It can be unnoticeable, like being caught in a deceptive snare of lies. Or it can be more obvious, as when a seemingly impenetrable fortress of job, title, health, marriage, or family suddenly and inexplicably implodes under pressure.
We can’t blame the storm. The storm is there to test the quality of the workmanship. They expose presumption, expectation, and idolatry, revealing their empty promises of happiness, security, and fulfillment.
Only the house build on a solid foundation withstands the storm. A solid foundation is one that is reliable, that does not disappoint. It is a life designed around the truth of Jesus’ words. The wise man reads Jesus’ words daily, making it a regular part of his spiritual diet just as food is a regular part of his physical diet. He not only reads, he gives weight to the words. He trusts them as his authority, and builds his life on them.
This is the most important thing we can take away from the sermon on the mount. Be soft toward Jesus’ words, bend with them, form your life around them. In the end, nothing else really matters.