Sermon preached on Matthew 7:24-29 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/09/2014 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Founded On the Rock”
We finish up today our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. You might recall that we had noted a few weeks back that this was part of a larger final section in the Sermon on the Mount that had begun at verse 13 of chapter 7. That in this last half of chapter 7, we’ve seen Jesus doing a series of comparisons. He’s presented a number of contrasting things. And in today’s passage we see more contrasting things. The big one is the overall comparison of building upon the rock versus building upon the sand. But there are more too. Not only are there the two contrasting foundations of rock and sand, but you have two men: the wise versus the fool; and you have hearing versus doing; and the chapter ends with a final grand comparison: Jesus and his teaching versus the scribes and their teaching.
And so as we finish up the sermon as a whole, and this last half of chapter 7 specifically with its many comparisons, we see the issue that has been repeatedly raised. It’s especially the focus of these comparisons at the end of chapter 7. Jesus wants us to examine ourselves. He wants us to ask the question: Am I truly a Christian? Am I one who is a part of his kingdom? Am I truly saved? He’s asked that question in different ways with these many sets of comparisons in the last half of chapter 7. Have I been on that narrow way of Christ or the broad way of the world? Have I embraced true doctrine, or have I been deceived by a false prophet? Have I properly analyzed the fruit of those whose teachings I would follow? And have I properly analyzed my own fruit? Have I indeed truly known the Lord, and has he truly known me? Or have I been deceived by myself? These are the sorts of specific questions Jesus has been raising. And now in this final section he gets us to think in terms of our foundation in life. Have we built our lives on the right foundation?
So then, let’s consider first today what Jesus says about our foundation. Let’s compare the two kinds of foundations that he says someone might have. Using the language of his analogy, he compares a foundation of rock versus a foundation of sand. And so let’s talk foundations. What is a foundation, first off? Well, as the analogy goes, it’s what you build your house upon. It’s what all your house will rest upon. It’s what will keep you house standing over time. In general, you want a reliable foundation; a firm and solid foundation. That’s what a foundation of rock is. It’s solid. It doesn’t move or shift around. Sand on the other hand moves around. It is not reliable. Imagine if you make a house of cards. I’m talking about with playing cards. If you were to make it on some solid flat and firm foundation, that would be a lot better than making it on top of a water bed. If you made it on top of a water bed, and you barely touch the bed, that house is coming down. It just isn’t a firm foundation.
Now this is still thinking about houses and building foundations. But Jesus doesn’t really have in mind buildings here. He has in mind our lives. What is our foundation? What is the foundation for our lives? What do we build everything in our life upon? What is the basis for everything that we do, say, and think? How do we evaluate the world around us, and our place in it? How do we relate to the creator of the universe? These are foundational questions. Well, whether you realize it or not, we all have some kind of foundation. We have some fundamental beliefs and convictions upon which we are building our lives. Now someone may not have thought about their foundation at all. They may not have given it any thought. They may just be going through life doing whatever they are doing at the moment. But the fact that they haven’t thought about their foundation doesn’t mean that they don’t have one. It just likely means that they have a very bad foundation. Likely one that is not steady and firm but changing all the time. Such would be described in the analogy here as a foundation of sand.
And so we obviously should want to have instead a foundation of rock. What is that foundation? In context, we see that Jesus points to his words as that foundation. Jesus says in verse 24, ” Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. We’ll talk about the “doing” of his words in a moment, under our second point for today. But for now, let me draw your attention to Jesus’ words. This is the foundation that Jesus is talking about. When he talks about his words, you should understand that in terms of his teaching. Jesus came into this world and before he went to the cross, he had a teaching ministry. He gave us the truth we need for our lives. His teachings, his doctrines, need to be what is foundational for how we think and live. By extension, we understand that this is not just simply Jesus’ words that he spoke while on earth, but it would include all the Holy Scriptures, as they are all inspired by God. And so Ephesians 2:20 talks in similar terms about our foundation, and it says that we are founded upon the apostles and the prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone of that foundation. And so when we think about the foundation we should have, it’s a foundation of truth from God, as revealed in the Holy Word. It’s a foundation of truth. And it’s a foundation of Christ. We stand upon Christ and his Word. This is the solid rock that we need.
Let me give you an example from our church membership classes. When we conduct those classes, we usually use the book Confessing Christ. And the first chapter in that book is titled the “Bible.” The reason it starts with the Bible is because that’s foundational. That’s what you got to start with. That’s our source of truth as it pertains to God, and man, and the world around us. Everything we know or do needs to build upon that.
In contrast, any other would be foundation, falls into the category of sand. What are some of those other foundations people stand upon? Well, let’s brain storm on that for just a moment. We could identify many such foundations. Some people’s foundation will be themselves, in one way or another. They might put their hope and trust in their own works and accomplishments. Everything for them might boil down to what they can personally do to make their life more of a success, as they define success, of course. Or they might make everything about fulfilling their changing passions. In other words, they might live for the moment. Everything they do is built upon that drive: how can they be happy. Or still others might try to build their lives upon outward appearances. They try to make themselves look good on the outside, and they think that will hold them up all their life. Jesus called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs when they tried that– looking nice on the outside but full of death on the inside.
Others might not set themselves per se as their foundation, but their foundation might be on other false doctrines or false religions. We can think of those heresies that come up in the church like modernism or prosperity theology or social gospel. They claim to be worthy to build your life upon, but they are not, because they have greatly perverted the truth of Christ’s words. The same is ultimately true with any of the other false religions in this world. Or with claims of agnosticism or atheism. All of these are claims to truth that people might try to base their lives upon, but the problem is that they aren’t really true. That’s what these things have in common: heresy, cults, other false religions, agnosticism, or atheism. They aren’t true! And so if you build your life upon them, it is sinking sand. Because you are building your life upon a lie.
This leads us now to our second point for today. I want us to turn now and to reflect on what makes someone a wise builder versus a foolish builder. Verse 24 mentions the wise builder and verse 26 mentions the foolish builder. If we read these two verses carefully we see that the difference is in what you do with Christ’s teachings. In verse 24, the wise man is the one who hears Jesus’ words and actually does them. In verse 26, the foolish man also hears Jesus’ words, but does not do them. See the difference? It’s what the book of James talks about too, surely with the Sermon on the Mount in mind. We must not be just hearers of the Word. We need to be both hearers and doers. If you are only a hearer, and not a doer, then you are like the foolish person who builds on the sand. You should know the right foundation to build upon. You should know what to build upon, because you’ve heard the words of Jesus. But when you then go and build on the sand, so to speak, you are showing that you are a fool.
And so in this second point, we see that the key difference between the wise person and the foolish person is what they do with the Word of God. Think about how important this point is at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has just got done teaching some very important things. What will people do with this teaching they have just heard? Will they respond appropriately? Well, the fool here is the one who hears these words of Jesus and ignores them. He does not set these teachings as his foundation and build upon them. He just goes on his way and builds instead on the sand; on the shifting foundation of something other than the Word of God. Do you see how foolish this is? Of course, it reveals a fundamental lack of faith in the words of Christ. The reason they don’t build on the right foundation, reveals that they don’t really value this foundation of rock. If you truly believed God’s words were true, and valued them for how essential they claim to be, then you would not foolishly ignore them. But the fool who hears them but ignores them, obviously doesn’t truly believe in them. They dismiss them and move on, to their own detriment, and as a sign of their own foolishness.
So, on the other hand then the wise man is the one who does the words of Christ that he hears. This is what the wise builder does. Given that that this is wisdom, and so important, let’s make sure we understand what this means. What does Jesus mean here by being a doer of the word, and not only a hearer of the word? Well, it can’t mean moralism. Well, it’s not saying that you build upon the rock by doing your best to live perfectly as if that would justify you before God. It can’t mean that, because that’s not what Jesus teaches. We’ve heard Jesus teach here, that even the righteousness of the most strict religious leaders of their day was not a good enough righteousness to earn a way into Christ’s kingdom. Jesus taught that only a perfect righteousness would earn a way into his kingdom, and so that must not be the way to be a doer of Christ’s Word.
Rather, when Jesus talks here about being a doer of the word, it first and foremost is about having a right response to Jesus’ teaching, and thus especially to the gospel. Remember, what was Jesus’ first words as he began his teaching ministry? It was that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and thus to repent and believe in the gospel. So, how is someone a doer of those words? First and foremost, it means they repent and believe in the gospel! This fits so nicely with the start of the Sermon on the Mount. Remember, we see Jesus announcing how blessed is the person who is poor in spirit and who mourns over their sinfulness and meekly looks to God to save them,. Those who’ve come to realize that the first response to Jesus teaching is to see our need for mercy and grace before God — we are the ones’ blessed, and that is the foundation we need to be building upon!
My point here is that if we are to wisely build on the foundation of Christ’s words, it will be by not only hearing Christ’s teachings, but doing them. And the doing of Christ’s teachings means to consider them and respond accordingly. We act in response to Christ’s teachings in light of what Christ has said. That means that we need to repent and believe in the gospel, that we would be justified by faith. That means that we then look to follow Christ as he sanctifies us by his grace. That means we realize that no man can save himself; that what is impossible with man is possible with God. It means we turn in faith to trust our lives fully to God and live accordingly.
So what Jesus is getting at here is that our Christian doctrine needs to be more than theoretical and academic. Yes, we need to hear it so that it becomes knowledge that we have. But true saving faith is more than just head knowledge. Even the demons believe there is one God — and shudder. And so true saving faith not only has the knowledge of Christ’s teaching, not only believes it to be true, but it also means that we entrust our lives to what Christ has taught. That means we trust Christ to save us by his grace. And it means we endeavor each day to follow Christ in obedience and love and faith, looking to grow in knowledge and righteousness and holiness. That is how we wisely build upon the foundation of Christ and his words. It’s by responding to his teachings in the way he calls us to respond. That’s spiritual wisdom. The opposite is spiritual folly.
So then, in our third point for today, I’d like to consider the ramifications of these two kinds of buildings, when the rains, winds, and floods come. And they will come. This is the analogy that Jesus gives. He says that those who build on the rock have something that will withstand the storms. He says that those who build on the sand have something that can’t withstand the storms. Notice verse 27 for those fall of the house that was built on the sand. It says “and great was the fall of it.” In Southern California where I’m from you sometimes hear of these huge houses along the cliffs above the beaches; they are often build partially on stilts on the side of these cliffs. Well, inevitable the storms eventually come, and, oh man, they slide down the hill into destruction. How horrible is the destruction. That’s what I think of it when I hear of this teaching by Jesus.
But again, he’s not really talking about houses. He’s talking about people. People who build their foundation of life on something other than Christ and their words will find that their foundation will ultimately give way. Such storms often come in this life, when there is some kind of trouble or trial or tribulation. Here I think of the parable of the sower, when Jesus describes the seed that falls on stony places, that when tribulation or persecution arises, the such a person stumbles, because he had no root. Or the seed that fell in among thorns is like those whom the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke them. In both examples of such seed, they both ultimately describe people without a real foundation on Christ. Things come along that shake them and destroy them.
Let me give another example. Jesus said we should not fear man but God, because man at best can only destroy the body, but God can throw both body and soul into hell. Well, see how if you have the right foundation, that man can’t really harm you? If your foundation is in the shifting sand, say, of needing man’s approval, then you can be shaken when man removes such approval of you. But if your foundation is upon the grace of God in Christ, what can man truly do to you? At best they could find ways to hurt and injure you in this life, but they can’t truly rock you off of the rock of your salvation.
Well beyond the storms of this life that can come, we need to ultimately be concerned about the final day of judgment. As we hear about these rains, and floods, and winds, we have to ultimately think of whether what we build will either stand or fall on the day of judgment. We’ve seen this trajectory in this last part of chapter 7. Jesus talked about the path that led to destruction, and the bad trees that will be cut down and burned, and about the self-deceived who will be told on the last day to depart from Christ for he never knew them. It seems quite fitting then that when we talk about whether our buildings will last when the storms come, to think of how this will apply on the day of judgment. The bottom line is that when we each go to stand before the Lord on that final day, only that which has been built on the foundation of Jesus Christ will stand. Paul uses such language in 1 Corinthians 3, there saying that fire will test each one’s works. But the context there is clear. Paul says that the foundation must be Jesus Christ.
And so the point is that those who have their foundation as Christ and his Holy Word, who have built upon that by rightly responding to the Word, they alone will stand on the day of judgment. The rest, in whatever foundation of sand they have tried to build upon, will fall on that great day of judgment. And how great will that fall indeed be. They will fall into the eternal wrath of God, and be cast into the eternal lake of fire.
And so my friends, when you stand before the Lord on that day of judgment, to what will you appeal? Will you appeal to your works to save you? If so, that’s a foundation of sinking sand. It will not save you. Don’t be a fool! Instead, appeal instead to the rock of Jesus Christ. Appeal to his grace that you have received by faith. Appeal to that firm foundation, and you will be saved.
This is what we affirm then again today. As the church of Jesus Christ, we look to continue to grow upon that foundation. And so then as we conclude this Sermon on the Mount, I point you to how the people responded to this Sermon on the Mount. The people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching. They recognized something authoritative and powerful and convicting and true in his words. May you too be astonished at his teachings. Be amazed at Jesus. Marvel at his teachings in this Sermon on the Mount, and all the Word of God. And in that amazement, don’t just be in awe, and go away and forget what God has said to you in his Word. Respond. Act accordingly. Heed the teachings of the Scriptures. As his disciple, you have repented and believed in the gospel. Continue in that. And continue to look to follow him each day, living out his word, and building upon that wonderful foundation he has given us. Praise be to God. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.