Introduction: The Sermon on the Mount, like most sermons today, has both an introduction and a conclusion. The introduction consists of the thought-provoking and heart-penetrating Beatitudes, but the conclusion consists of a simple illustration intended to drive home the crucial choice left to the hearers. And it shows us that we have been brought by Jesus to a potentially dangerous place as well. For we have become hearers of His teaching and – as hearers – we are now held responsible for what we have heard.
Puritan author Thomas Brooks, in his justly famous book entitled Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, gives this warning in his preface “To the Reader”:
Know that it is not the knowing, nor the talking, nor the reading man – but the doing man, that at last will be found the happiest man. “If you know these things, blessed and happy are you if you DO them.” “Not everyone that says, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven – but he who DOES the will of my Father that is in heaven” (John 13:17, Matt. 7:21). Judas called Christ Lord, Lord; and yet betrayed him, and has gone to his place. Ah! how many Judases have we in these days, that kiss Christ, and yet betray Christ; that in their words profess him—but in their works deny him; that bow their knee to him, and yet in their hearts despise him; that call him Jesus, and yet will not obey him for their Lord.
Reader, if it is not strong upon your heart to practice what you read, to what end do you read? To increase your own condemnation? If your light and knowledge be not turned into practice, the more knowing a man you are, the more miserable a man you will be in the day of recompense; your light and knowledge will more torment you than all the devils in hell. Your knowledge will be that rod that will eternally lash you, and that scorpion that will forever bite you, and that worm that will everlastingly gnaw you; therefore read, and labor to know, that you may do – or else you are undone forever.
Exposition – The Wise Builder: We will see in this passage that Jesus also gives us a grave warning, although – unlike Brooks – He chooses to end His discourse with a warning. And His warning comes in the form of a brief but poignant parable.
NKJ Matthew 7:24-25 Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
The word therefore points back in the context to the previous contrast between saying and doing and introduces the contrast here between hearing and doing. Just before and leading up to this parable, Jesus said:
NKJ Matthew 7:20-23 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 21 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
In these preceding instructions Jesus warned us about the danger of self-deception that makes us think that we can claim to believe yet have no corresponding fruit in our lives. Even so, in this parable Jesus is explaining that those who merely say that Jesus is Lord are self-deceived, but not due to the fact that they never heard the truth. They heard it alright, but it made no difference to them because they did not heed it!
When Jesus says that the man built his house on the rock and that his house was founded on the rock, He is implying and expecting His hearers to understand what He stated explicitly on another occasion when He used the same illustration:
NKJ Luke 6:48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.
So, when Jesus says the man built on the rock and that His house was founded on the rock, He is talking about the strong foundation of the house. And this foundation is deep in the ground. It is not immediately visible, and its depth and strength are not evident until it is battered by a storm and withstands it.
But what is the rock Jesus is talking about? What does it represent? The answer is found in verse 24, in Jesus' reference to “these sayings [words] of Mine.” The rock – the sure foundation – is the truth He brings. And Jesus intends a correspondence here between His own words and His reference to “the will of My Father” in verse 21:
NKJ Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
So, those who say Jesus is Lord and do the Father's will are also those who hear Jesus' word and do it. And the Father's will and Jesus' words are revealed and preserved for us in the Bible. It is in the Bible where we find the source of truth upon which we must build our lives. It is in the Bible where we find Christ revealed. Thus the Lord Jesus ultimately directs us to the Scriptures as our sure foundation.
Exposition – The Foolish Builder: But the foolish man will not heed the words of our Lord Jesus, as He goes on to make clear in the second part of the parable:
NKJ Matthew 7:26-27 But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.
Again, a comparison with Jesus' use of this illustration elsewhere shows with certainty that the problem with this house is its lack of a proper foundation:
NKJ Luke 6:49 But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.
Such a house has not been built upon the truth and will be destroyed when the storms come. This is true of those who encounter life's storms without this proper foundation, but it is especially true of those who encounter the ultimate storm of God's judgment. They shall fall … and great shall be their fall!
Application: This leads us to the application of the parable, and I would suggest that there are at least four ways in which we may apply this parable to our own lives:
1) Notice that the foundation is hidden until the storm comes. In fact, the two houses may even look the same in every way, but when the storm comes it will reveal the foundation ... and the foundation is all the difference!
Now, Jesus is speaking in a general way here, so He may have a broad application of the analogy in mind. In this case, the storm probably stands for difficulties, trials, or temptations that will come upon those who profess faith in Christ. In fact, the context would indicate temptations to follow false teachers as one possibility. If taken in this general way, this reminds me of another analogy Jesus used when He told the parable of the four kinds of soil. He described the three bad kinds of soil this way:
NKJ Matthew 13:19-23 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.
When the storms of life hit you, what kind of soil do they reveal you to be? Or, to get back to the analogy in this passage, what kind of foundation do they reveal? When difficulties and temptations come our way, do we begin to collapse under the pressure, or do we withstand such storms?
2) Also, if understood in this more general way, it is important to notice that Christians are not spared from storms. They are only assured that they will withstand them because they have built their lives on a sure foundation. As the Lord Jesus taught on another occasion, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And when we withstand the storms of life in this world, the foundation upon which we have built will be evident to all.
3) But there is another, more specific application Jesus may be thinking about in this parable, namely that the ultimate storm we will all face is that of God's judgment. Certainly the future judgment is on Jesus' mind in this passage (recall again verses 21-23). If so, it is not unusual that He would envision the future judgment as a storm, because this is a familiar Old Testament analogy. For example:
NKJ Ezekiel 13:9-14 My hand will be against the prophets who envision futility and who divine lies; they shall not be in the assembly of My people, nor be written in the record of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD. 10 Because, indeed, because they have seduced My people, saying, “Peace!” when there is no peace – and one builds a wall, and they plaster it with untempered mortar – 11 say to those who plaster it with untempered mortar, that it will fall. There will be flooding rain, and you, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall tear it down. 12 Surely, when the wall has fallen, will it not be said to you, “Where is the mortar with which you plastered it?” 13 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “I will cause a stormy wind to break forth in My fury; and there shall be a flooding rain in My anger, and great hailstones in fury to consume it. 14 So I will break down the wall you have plastered with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be uncovered; it will fall, and you shall be consumed in the midst of it. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”
When the ultimate storm of God's judgment comes upon you, what kind of foundation will be revealed? Will your life be seen to be built upon Christ through faith?
[Perhaps see also 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 about the future judgment for believers. Some Christians will be left with nothing but a foundation!]
4) In addition, the storms of this life as well as the ultimate storm of God's judgment will – as we have seen in the preceding context – expose the self-deception of those who call Jesus “Lord,” but who do not do the Lord's will. In the same way, these storms will reveal the self-deception of those who hear His word and do not do it. The Apostle James also wrote about such self-deception:
NKJ James 1:22-25 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
Jesus, and James after Him, are warning us about such storms ahead of time, so that we will be wise builders now and build our lives on the truth. And if it smarts … if it makes us uncomfortable … then perhaps we should each ask ourselves this question: Isn't it better to have our self-deception revealed now – even if by many terrible and difficult storms of life – than in the future judgment? After all, now is the time we can do something about it! There will be no second chance beyond this life. As the author of Hebrews says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
Conclusion: As John Stott has aptly reminded us concerning this parable:
In applying this teaching to ourselves, we need to consider that the Bible is a dangerous book to read, and that the church is a dangerous society to join. For in reading the Bible we hear the words of Christ, and in joining the church we say we believe in Christ. As a result, we belong to the company described by Jesus as both hearing his teaching and calling him Lord. Our membership therefore lays upon us the serious responsibility of ensuring that what we know and what we say is translated into what we do. (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 210, emphasis mine.]
Paul said to the Corinthians:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 3:11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Is Christ the foundation of your life? If so, it will show in the way you live your life! It will show that you are trusting the Lord as the true builder of your house:
NKJ Psalm 127:1a Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it ….
It is only by God's grace and through His power that we can build our lives on a solid foundation!