Building on the Rock
At some time or another many of you have purchased a house. The process of buying a house is a long one, with many hoops to jump through, forms to sign, and certifications to secure. One of the things that most banks require (and many potential homebuyers do regardless) is a home inspection by a professional home inspector. The reason to get a home inspection is simple—though a house may look good on the surface, there may be flaws that are only revealed upon closer examination. Some of these flaws may not be a big deal, while others can be major issues. A wise person selects a good home inspector and pays attention to what he or she says. If the inspector says something needs to be fixed, you would be prudent to listen.
In our passage this morning, Jesus draws an analogy between houses and our lives. He reminds us that whether you are talking about a house or your life, taking a superficial look is not enough, because the most important things are only seen upon careful inspection.
A Tale of Two Houses
Jesus uses the analogy of two men who build two houses to illustrate this point vividly.
24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27, NLT)
Jesus asks us to imagine two houses that are identical in every way except one—the ground on which the house is built. One is built on bedrock while the other is built on sand. This would have been an analogy the people of that time would have understood. In that area of the world, there were many places that had very sandy soil. During the dry season, the soil would get baked out and would become very hard; hard enough that the ground seemed strong, almost like rock. As such, a person might be tempted to build their house directly on the soil, assuming that it would be strong enough to support the structure. The problem is that when the wet season came the soil that seemed so solid would suddenly soften. As the sandy soil got wet the ground would shift, it would become weak, and a strong storm would cause such a house to fall apart completely.
It was a lot easier to build a house directly on the soil—it didn’t take nearly as much time or effort—but most people understood that the wiser approach was to dig down into the sand, often as much as 8-10 feet down, until you hit rock. Once you got down to the rock, you could build your house using the bedrock as your foundation. A house that was built in that fashion would be far sturdier than one built on the sandy soil.
We understand that concept today as well—the quality of the foundation goes a long way to determining the quality of the house as a whole. A house that has a shoddy foundation is in danger of falling apart. Jesus says the same is true in life.
He tells us that that what we base our lives on is important because it determines what the rest of our lives are like. He uses the analogy of the foolish man’s house collapsing when the winds came up and the floods raged. The quality of the foundation is revealed when the storms come. Even a house of cards can stand firm in a room with no wind and no movement. The real test of a building is how well it holds up under pressure—how it does in the midst of a raging storm.
As it is for a building, so it is in life. No matter what your belief system, it is easy to live your life when things are going well. That isn’t much of a test. The real test comes when you face the inevitable storms of life—that is when the quality of the foundation is revealed. The person who has based their life upon Christ is able to stand firm in the midst of the storms of life. The person whose faith is in something else crumbles under the pressure. Think about some of the storms of life and how they test our foundations:
- When you get a difficult diagnosis. The person building on sand finds themselves becoming bitter, angry, or despairing. The person whose life is built on Christ may still struggle to come to grips with things, but they turn to the Lord for strength, for guidance, and they keep clinging to the truth that God is in control, even when they don’t understand why things are happening.
- When the job market dries up. The person building on sand looks to themselves for answers, believing they can turn things around on their own. Or they may look to advice columns, friends, or family for tricks to get ahead. The person building on the rock continues to work hard at honoring the Lord, doing what they know needs to be done, looking to Him for guidance, and trusting Him to provide for their needs.
- When you face relationship issues. The person building on sand looks for ways to force the other person to change, to hurt them like they hurt us, or to rally support for their position. The person building on the rock asks the Lord to show them where they have gone wrong, seeks reconciliation rather than retribution, and asks God to show them what they need to do to restore the relationship—even if what they need to do is hard, or it means admitting they were wrong.
The foundation on which you build is important. If we build our lives on any foundation other than the Lord, we will discover that foundation will crumble under pressure. But if we base our lives on God and His word, we will be able to endure any storm and stand firm, because we know that He is in control.
Doing a Foundation Inspection
Don’t miss an important point here. The two houses looked the same from the outside. A “drive by inspection” wouldn’t reveal the issues with the house built on the sand. Only a closer look does. As we saw last week, lots of people think they have built their foundation on the Rock of Jesus Christ, but many of them are deceived. There are a lot of people who look like Christians from the outside, but the truth is their lives are built on sand. They will one day discover that they were really relying on something else. Most of these people aren’t trying to rebel against the Lord, they simply don’t realize what they are doing. Listen to what one commentary had to say,
Most people do not deliberately seek to build on a false or inferior foundation; instead, they just don’t think about their life’s purpose. Many people are headed for destruction, not out of stubbornness but out of thoughtlessness.
Jesus’ illustration is intended to be a wakeup call. It should challenge us to take a closer look at our lives and see what our foundation really is. It’s not enough to look at our outward appearance—we have to dig deeper.
Jesus says that the way we can know what kind of foundation we are building on is to compare our lives to His word. He says that the person who is building on the rock is the person who not only hears his words but put them into practice. Jesus is not preaching a works-based salvation here. He is not saying that if you just work harder then you will get to heaven. What He is telling us is that if our lives are truly built upon Him then we will do what He says.
Commentator William Barclay has a great analogy,
There is little point in consulting a doctor about our health unless we are prepared to act upon the things we are told. There is little point in going to an expert unless we are prepared to act upon the advice given to us. And yet there are thousands of people who listen to the teaching of Jesus Christ every Sunday, and who have a very good knowledge of what Jesus taught, and who yet make little or no deliberate attempt to put it into practice.
Barclay is echoing Jesus’ statement here. If you are going to ignore the advice of the doctor, it is basically a waste of time to get his opinion. Similarly, there is little to be gained from sitting under the teaching of God’s word if we don’t actually seek to apply it to our lives.
We see the same thing in the book of James,
22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (James 1:22, NLT)
So we need to take a careful look at our lives and see whether we are merely listening to God’s word, or whether we are actually doing what it says.
The first question to ask, however, is whether we are even listening to the word. If we want to build our lives on the right foundation, we first need to consult the blueprints. So be honest with yourself.
- Do you make it a point to regularly read the Bible for yourself, or does your Bible collect dust at home, only to be pulled out on special occasions?
- Do you make corporate worship a priority? Is sitting under the teaching of God’s Word and being in fellowship with God’s people important enough to you that it merits a top place in your schedule, or does it lose out when something “more important” comes up?
- Do you find yourself talking with others about God’s word, or is Christian just another label you wear (like manager or employee, Republican or Democrat, Cubs fan or Cardinals fan)?
If these statements describe you, then turn to the Lord and seek his guidance for your life, rather than simply drifting away while thinking you are in good shape. Submit your life to the only One who can save you—the only One on whom you can build your life.
But even if you are regularly reading the Bible and are in worship, Sunday school, Bible studies, or youth group every week, you can still be building on the wrong foundation. Having the knowledge of what God’s Word says does you no good unless you actually apply it to your life. So again, we need to ask ourselves some questions.
- Where do I look to inform my thinking? When faced with a difficult question do I first look to what God says on the matter, or do I seek out the opinion of a voice on the radio, TV, in a book, in a blog, or (God forbid) on Facebook?
- Am I reading the Bible with the expectation that God will speak to me, or am I simply checking something off of my spiritual to do list? Do you read the Bible merely to gain information, or to be transformed by it?
- Do I find myself making progress in holiness? Look back on the last week, the last year, the last 5 years. Can you point to specific areas of your life where you have been working to submit to the Lord? Have you made progress in those areas? If you can’t point to specific areas that God is working in your life, there is a good chance that you are building on a different foundation.
- Do I find myself becoming more like Jesus or more like the world? Do you find that you naturally blend in with the non-Christians around you, or do you stick out like a sore thumb? If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
- Am I driven more by the things of the Lord, or am I driven by the things of the world? Do you find yourself seeking after the things of God (like holiness, humility, caring for others, and pointing people to Him) or the things of the world (like money, comfort, power, and popularity)?
- Where do I invest my resources? Are you using your money, your talents, your influence, and your time for the advancement of God’s Kingdom or your own personal agenda?
These questions should cause us to sit up in our chairs and pay attention. Jesus is issuing us a wakeup call. He is telling us that the foundation on which we build is important. Too many people are building on the wrong foundation, or worse, are simply drifting without any thought of where their foundation actually is. Jesus tells us that if the foundation on which we build is faulty, then we don’t stand a chance in this life—or in the next.
We have spent the last several months studying the Sermon on the Mount. I hope you have seen that what Jesus tells us is timeless and is just as relevant today as it was when he first spoke these words. I hope you also see that what Jesus tells us is important, and should have a profound impact on the way we live each and every day of our lives.
I hope you see the big picture of what Jesus has taught us. He has done more than simply give us a list of rules of how to live. If you come away from the Sermon on the Mount concluding that you just need to work harder in order to earn God’s favor, you have missed the point. The way Jesus started his sermon set the tone for everything that followed. He told us that the first step of being a Christian is recognizing that we do not have it all together. We cannot possibly be good enough to earn God’s favor. We have no hope if we try to live life in our own strength. Our only hope is to trust wholeheartedly in Jesus Christ. It is to submit our lives to Him and to follow Him. If we will do that, then we will start living the way that Jesus has described in these short chapters. But trying to live this way apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ is an exercise in futility. We can only live this way with God’s help.
I find the way that Matthew chooses to close out his account of the Sermon on the Mount fascinating. Look at the final words of his account,
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law. (Matthew 7:28-29, NLT)
The crowds who were gathered around Jesus were amazed. The religious leaders of their day didn’t dare teach like Jesus did. The religious leaders had to support their positions by quoting the Jewish traditions, but Jesus didn’t appeal to Jewish traditions. He spoke as though He himself was authoritative. He didn’t need to appeal to another authority to give credibility to His words—He was the authority! The people saw that there was something different about the way Jesus taught. I have to imagine that the people even saw that there was something profoundly true about what Jesus taught. Our society today even recognizes how profound Jesus’ teachings are—just look at how many of them have become a part of our common language: turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, do to others as you would have them do to you, love your neighbor, etc. People are amazed at the wisdom of Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount really is the best sermon ever!
But as I looked at these concluding words something else struck me. What struck me was what Matthew did not say. He said that the crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, but he does not say that they did anything about it. He doesn’t say that they followed Jesus’ teaching. He only says they were amazed, that they were impressed.
Friends, this is the danger of studying the Sermon on the Mount. It is possible to spend months digging into the significance of what Jesus taught. It is possible to see the value of Jesus’ teaching—it is possible to see Jesus’ teaching as immensely practical and relevant to our society today. But if you simply come away from the Sermon on the Mount amazed at Jesus’ teaching you have wasted your time.
As we look back over the ground we have covered, we need to not only recognize that what Jesus said was good and beneficial; we need to base our lives upon it. We need to recognize that the Christian life starts with being poor in spirit; it starts with recognizing that we are utterly dependent upon the Lord for our strength. We cannot earn his favor simply by trying to keep the commands Jesus gives us in Matthew 5-7. But we must also recognize that a person who is truly seeking God is someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. The true believer is someone who is constantly striving to draw closer to the Lord. They are always looking for the next lesson God wants them to learn. They are not working to earn their salvation, but they are seeking to base their lives more and more on the Lord of Life.
This is the message of the Sermon on the Mount: look at your life, and see what it reveals about you. Does it reveal a person who is seeking after the things of God, or does it reveal a heart that is divided? What kind of foundation is your house built on? Is it built on one that can withstand the storms of life, or are you building a house of cards that will ultimately crumble?
As we close out our study of the Sermon on the Mount we must wrestle with how to respond to what we have read. Will we simply stop at being amazed by what Jesus has said? Will we merely commit these things to memory, post them on our walls, and marvel at their wisdom? Or will we go a step further and work at applying them to our lives, at doing the hard work of self-evaluation, and constantly checking our focus to make sure we are following the Lord rather than getting distracted by the things of this world? One path leads to a life that can withstand any storm that will come up, and will lead us to an eternity with Jesus in Heaven. The other path ultimately leads to destruction.
Jesus has shown us the path to eternal life—it is Him! The question we must each answer for ourselves is who will we trust? Will we trust our own judgment, the judgment of the media we consume, or the judgment of our friends and family? Or will we trust the One who speaks with authority? Will you simply be amazed by what Jesus has said, or will you allow it to change you, the way you think and the way you live? The answer to that question determines everything—it determines whether you are building on the Rock or whether you are building on a foundation of sand.
When you purchase a house, you know better than to make a decision on looks alone. You know that often the most important things require closer examination. Our lives are no different—we can look good on the outside, but what really matters is what we are building our lives on.
 Barton, Bruce B. Matthew. Life Application Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996.
 Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew. Third Ed. The New Daily Study Bible. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001.