The SERMON on the MOUNT (22)
Matthew 7:24-27 (22)
When we complete anything we usually look back over it to see if we are satisfied with it. A preacher might ask what the listeners thought and wonder, ‘Did they enjoy it?’ With these words Jesus brings his classic sermon to an end but He doesn`t look for praise, as we might, but rather asks, ‘Did you hear it?’ The truth is that we so often listen but do not truly hear. ‘What hinders our spirituality is our inattention.’ (Oswald Chambers).
The Sermon on the Mount is not something to praised, although it is a glorious sermon, but something to be lived which means that we not only listen, but hear and obey.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (7:24-27).
A few years ago a friend asked me to fit a new kitchen in her bungalow. The kitchen floor seemed to have dropped in the middle and I could not get the units level, no matter how hard I tried, and so I investigated further. It turned out that the house had been built on a ancient stream bed, thought to have long since dried up, but water was still flowing deep beneath the surface, and this had gradually washed away the sandy foundation under the floor. We like to watch ‘Grand Designs’ and the one factor crucial to all the plans, be they large or small, is the need for a good foundation.
We saw in Jesus conclusion: that it is not possible to enter the kingdom by just any gate or path of our choosing but only by the narrow way; that our lives will bear fruit that will show the reality of our kingdom status; that our ‘religious’ profession and ‘Christian’ work might fool those around us but they will not fool the king. He sees and knows what is often hidden from our view, the foundations.
Jesus begins this final section with the word ‘therefore’ and that is very important as he has just spoken about us standing before Him, the Judge. What he is saying here is: In the light of the inevitable fact of judgement make sure that what you are building is going to last, not only for today but that it will also still stand secure on Judgment Day. ‘The question is not only ‘Have you entered in?’ and ‘Is there any change?’ but ‘How do you build?’ (He wants the hearers to ask themselves whether or not they are building on the only foundation that will bear their weight.)’ (M Green).
It seems that both the wise and the foolish are building something that from the outside looks very similar and it is only when the structure is tested that the building`s true worth becomes obvious. Let us consider the foolish person first. The fool is the person who rushes ahead and just wants to see the building complete. He cannot be bothered to take time with things, like foundations, for he reasons that no one sees them. He doesn`t look at himself in the light of this great Sermon but as James says ‘he goes away forgetting what he is like.’ (Jam 1:24). He builds his faith around his ‘pet texts’, which he quotes almost like lucky charms, but he is not interested in doctrine. He will spend hours listening to speakers who make him feel good but not spend any time wrestling with the uncomfortable passages of scripture. He is well described, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” (Prov 12:15). ‘It is not enough to hear Christ`s sayings, and understand them, hear them and remember them, hear them and talk of them, repeat them, dispute for them; but we must hear and do them.’ (M Henry).
The wise man looks at this Sermon and is cut to the quick when he sees how far short of it he falls. He says to himself, ‘If it is as difficult as this for me to live as a kingdom citizen how will it be when other things come against me?’ He doesn`t worry how quickly his building goes up because he knows that the key to success is in the foundation and so he makes sure that it is good. ‘He does not content himself with listening to exhortations to repent, believe in Christ, and live a holy life. He actually repents: he actually believes. He ceases to do evil, learns to do well, abhors that which is sinful, and cleaves to that which is good.’ (J C Ryle). He hungers and thirsts for righteousness and is not content to rest on ‘pet texts’ but wrestles with the word of God that his faith might be grounded on the firm foundation of God`s Word. This man is a “doer of the word, and not a hearer only, so he doesn`t deceive himself.” (Jam 1:22).
I have read many ingenious explanations of what the rain, floods and the winds might be.
Here are my thoughts. I see the ‘rain’ as ‘the world.’ The innocuous things that are around us everyday which we ignore because we don`t see any threat or danger from them. We cannot avoid being in the world but it`s influence is constantly weakening our defences. The ‘floods came’ (a better rendering) I see as ‘the flesh.’ Floods come after a build up of water and overwhelm in a weak place. We all have areas of weakness, perhaps spiritual, physical, sexual or moral, and if we have not built up a strong defence in these vulnerable areas we can be suddenly overwhelmed. The ‘winds’ I would liken to ‘the Devil,’ whose attacks are sudden and without warning. We know he comes to ‘steal, kill and destroy’ but it is often the manner of his attack that catches us unawares. However, I don`t think Jesus point was what form the trials and testing took, but rather that testing of some sort will come upon everyone of us and it will reveal what our true foundation is like.
God was Israel`s foundation and they promised to keep His Law given through Moses. They constantly disregarded it, breaking it and following other gods. God was so displeased with them that He promised to bring trouble upon them. They forsook their foundation but thought that as long as they continued to offer sacrifices that everything would be fine. This modern translation seems to me to get it just right. “They are like workers who think they can fix a shaky wall by covering it with paint. But when I send rainstorms, hailstones, and strong winds, the wall will surely collapse. People will then ask the workers why the paint didn’t hold it up.” (Eze 13:10-12). We don`t like to think that God is the one who is testing our foundations. He tests them, not to see what they are like, because He already know that, but so that we might see just how shaky and unreliable they are. He does this out of love that we might repent and build on the only true and lasting foundation.
Jesus said He did what His Father does and only spoke the words His Father told Him to say. The bible is a book about Jesus ‘in the Old concealed and in the New revealed.’ If we neglect it we could be building on a shaky foundation and testing will find it out. “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw–each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” (1 Cor 3:11-13).
Before we start worrying whether we are building with ‘gold, silver, or precious stones’ let us make sure that first of all that our foundation is Jesus Christ and His Word. Anything else will be revealed, as it is washed away in the storms of testing, to have been built on sand.
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