The choice between two roads

I want you to stop and think about the house that you live in. If I asked you to describe your house to me, you would most likely tell me about the location, the color, the design, the square footage, the size of the lot, and the number of bedrooms. But you probably wouldn’t tell me about the foundation. Perhaps you don’t know anything about your foundation. Yet, it is the foundation of your house that makes all the difference. Prov 24:3 states, “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established.” This is true not only of your house; it is also true of your life.

In Matthew 7:24–27, Jesus tells a parable that compares and contrasts two builders: one wise and one foolish. He emphasizes how critical it is to have a strong foundation. The use of a building metaphor should not surprise us; Jesus was a carpenter. As part of the firm of Joseph and Sons in Nazareth, He had built the furniture that people put into their homes and He had probably built some of the homes as well. Jesus knew the difference between a solid house and a shoddy one. However, this story is not just for architects, carpenters, and contractors. It is for you and me. Building a house is simply an analogy for building a life. The point is this: You are building a life and the foundation you choose is the most important feature of your life. In the verses that follow, Jesus provides two options for building your life.

1. Build your life on the strong foundation (7:24–25). Jesus says, “The only way to build a strong foundation is by obeying His words.” He begins His parable in 7:24 with the word “therefore,” which looks back to the entire Sermon on the Mount. In light of His teachings, Jesus says, “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.” By using the word “everyone” (cf. 7:26), Jesus reveals that His words are intended for all people for all time. He begins by stating that you must “hear” His words. In order to do so you must expose yourself to the truth. You can do this by reading the Bible, by reading Christian books, by attending worship, by getting involved in classes and small groups, and by meeting with Christian friends who can teach you. While this may sound daunting and tedious, this is what you do in every other area of your life, right? If you want to learn a skill or profession you must seek out the necessary information. An athlete listens to coaches and more experienced players. A craftsman becomes an apprentice to learn from those who are more experienced. A student teacher learns from a teacher in a classroom environment. In each of these cases, it is essential to not just hear the truth but to listen to the truth. Anyone who is married knows that there is a difference. Anyone who has a teenager knows that there is a difference between hearing and listening. The key to listening is to interact with the one doing the speaking. The best listeners I know are people who ask lots of clarifying questions such as: “What do you mean?” “Are you saying…?” “Can you explain that further?” These questions show that a person is listening. We should ask clarifying questions when interacting with Christ’s words. Is God warning me of something? Do I need to repent? Is this a promise that I can claim or a command I need to obey?

Jesus urges you to hear His words, but He doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that you must act upon His words. If you are going to build on a solid foundation you must actually DO what Jesus wants you to do. Hearing His words is not enough. You are building your life on His words ONLY as you obey them (see James 1:22). Let me explain: I have heard that vegetables are good for you. I believe this is true. I have even prayed that the Lord would change my taste buds and give me a desire for vegetables. Yet, I rarely obey what I know to be true by eating veggies. Oh, that analogy doesn’t work for you? How about this: Do you floss on a daily basis? Why not? You know how to floss, right? You’ve seen the charts at the dentist’s office and you’ve purchased your top-of-the-line, mint-flavored floss in its fancy holder, right? You make a commitment that you will floss every day. But after a week you stop flossing. You don’t floss because you don’t really believe that your teeth will rot and fall out.

In the same way, you can hear all of Jesus’ words and know them like the back of your hand, but if you don’t do what He says, you aren’t building on the right foundation. Fortunately, you are likely seeking to obey Jesus’ teaching. You have made a commitment to obey His words. Even though your marriage is a mess and others encourage you to find happiness and divorce your spouse, you remain faithful to your spouse and to the Lord. When your finances have been especially tight and you’ve been tempted to not give to the Lord, instead you trust the Lord and give in obedience. In an impure world that glorifies immorality, you choose to abstain on a daily basis. When your children challenge your parental authority, you continue to persevere, loving them and sharing God’s Word with them. When you have been the victim of gossip and slander and your flesh rises up to take revenge, you choose to forgive. When there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day, you still find a way to serve Christ’s church and people in your community. As your teacher, I know who many of you are. But more importantly, God knows who you are.

In 7:25, you will discover why it’s so critical to build on the strong foundation. Jesus says, “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.” Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. Just look at the word “and” in 7:25. Jesus does not say “if the rain falls” or “if the floods come” or “if the winds blow.” He says, “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house” (italics mine). Jesus tells you straight-up that storms will come and you will not be spared! And if you’ve walked with Christ for any length of time, you’ve observed that people who hear and do the words of Jesus have the very same crises in their lives that people have who don’t do His words. Obedience to Christ does not mean you will not get rained on. Anyone who tells you that the Christian life is all sunny days has lied to you. Nevertheless, the storms are what test us. Living in the sunshine of life doesn’t tell us much about ourselves. Anybody can build a house that will stand firm when the sun is shining and the wind is still. It is the storms that reveal the strength of your foundation. When you build on the rock you must expect storms, because only storms can show your wisdom to the world around you.

o Sometimes the storm roars in as you are pounded by sickness or the fear of death. Perhaps you will learn that you have cancer or another life-threatening disease. Maybe a loved one will suddenly pass away. You may develop a nagging injury that refuses to heal. Maybe you’re beginning to feel your age and this discourages you to no end. Times like these reveal the foundations of your life.

o Sometimes the storm is a crushing personal loss. You may lose a job that not only provides income but also provides you with self-esteem and personal security. Your carefully built stock portfolio suddenly destroyed can be like a tornado roaring through the comfortable life you have built. When you realize that you haven’t built up the security you counted on, everything in your life can come tumbling down and you see exposed the faulty foundations of your life.

o In many cases, your foundation can be tested by prosperity. Prosperity comes like a gentle spring rain. At first you’re convinced it will make your life green and healthy. But when prosperity keeps coming, it can develop into a large destructive force as damaging as a storm. What you gain, not what you lose, often serves as the supreme test of your foundation. More men and women have been knocked off their spiritual foundation by great wealth than by great reversal.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed thousands of homes in South Florida. Yet in an area where the wreckage looked like a war zone, one house remained standing, still firmly anchored to its foundation. When a reporter asked the homeowner why his house had not been blown away, he replied, “I built this house myself. I also built it according to the Florida state building code. When the code called for 2” x 6” roof trusses, I used 2” x 6” roof trusses. I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane—and it did.”
When personal storms come many lives will be destroyed and left in shambles. Most people don’t find the narrow gate (7:13–14). Most people don’t build on the foundation of Christ’s words. But if you construct your life according to Christ’s building codes you will not be disappointed. While obedience to Jesus’ words is not a protection from the troubles; it is a protection in the troubles. Yes, you may lose some windows and the house of your life may be shaken but it will not collapse and be swept away. I want to encourage you: All the time that you have invested in laying your biblical foundation will pay off. If you haven’t already seen the results and benefits, I can assure you that one day you will. Building on the rock is the best flood insurance you can invest in. Storms will come and go. You are either in a trial, coming out of a trial, or entering into a trial. Nevertheless, if you’ve built your life on the foundation of Christ, you have nothing to fear. A good storm will demonstrate the stability of your foundation.

Does the house of your life have a rock? Have you built your life on a strong foundation? We all need the rock. Without the rock, we would all just roll away. Place your faith in Jesus Christ today. If you’ve already placed your faith in Him continue to grow in Him. [You can build your life on the strong foundation, but unfortunately you may not choose to do this. So Jesus now presents the alternative. As a builder, you can…]
2. Destroy your life on the wrong foundation (7:26–27). Jesus modifies His previous parable and applies it negatively to those who refuse to obey His words. In 7:26 He says, “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 opposite of a wise man is a foolish man. The Greek word for “foolish” is moros. I don’t need to tell you what this word means in either Greek or English. A person who disregards Jesus’ words is called a stupid moron. He is foolish. He didn’t build on the rock of Jesus’ words! Please note: The foolish builder also heard Jesus’ words but didn’t act upon them. The decision not to act on Jesus’ words, for whatever reason, is already a decision to do a great deal. It is the decision to live by someone else’s words, for we all live by someone’s words. Every person is building a life according to some scheme, some design. People don’t build at random. Everyone has a world view or a philosophy. Who or what is your foundation? If it isn’t Jesus Christ, make sure He is today.

Why did the foolish man build his house on the sand? He miscalculated the weather. He thought every day was going to be sunshine. He thought his life was always going to be smooth. So he figured a sand dune would do as a foundation. Let’s face it; it is appealing to build on the sand. It’s found in a good location. It’s adequate. It’s easy. Who wants to dig down deep if you don’t have to (see Luke 6:47)? It takes more work to build on the rock. It takes more time and energy. And it costs more. It is easier and faster to build on the sand. It’s always easier to take shortcuts in building a home. It’s cheaper to use inferior materials. And for a while, no one may notice. But somewhere along the line, you will pay for your shoddy workmanship. The same is true when it comes to the foundation of your life. It is easier to go with the crowd. It takes less time and energy if you simply maintain a superficial faith. And frankly, most of the time, who can really tell the difference anyway? It’s easier to just show up for church for an hour a week than it is to develop spiritual roots. But there’s only one problem with this mentality, the Bible teaches that storms are lurking on the horizon.

In 7:27, Jesus closes His parable with a storm warning: “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” Jesus concludes His parable and the entire Sermon on the Mount with an illustration of warning rather than of encouragement. I thrive on encouragement. I like to encourage others and be encouraged myself. Yet, as much as I appreciate encouragement, there is something about a strong word of warning that snaps me to attention. Jesus is saying, “You neglect My warning at your own peril!” Jesus’ warning has both a future and temporal application. The word “great” (megale) is the last word in 7:27, hence the last word of the Sermon on the Mount. The point is that if you reject Jesus Christ, you will spend eternity separated from Him. This is the future judgment. Yet, there is also a temporal judgment that concerns believers. If you choose to disregard Jesus’ commandments, you too will fall in this life and at the judgment seat.
Do you know what many Christians do when it starts raining? They try to change foundations. When the sky gets dark, the winds pick up, and the rain begins to pour they pick up the telephone, call the most spiritual people they know, and say, “Help me build a new foundation under my house. It’s falling apart.” But you can’t change foundations when you’re in the midst of a storm. You have to lay your foundation before the storm comes, so that when the rain, the floods, and the winds come, your house is secure. This is also true in the natural realm. It is hard to lay a foundation when it’s raining. Workers have to stop pouring concrete when it begins to rain. The foundation has to be poured on sunny days.

How is your foundation? Is it built upon the rock or is it built upon sand? If it’s built upon the rock, keep on. Continue doing what you’re doing. Seek to stretch yourself further in God’s Word. Pray that He gives you an even greater hunger and thirst for His Word. If your foundation is built upon sand and you know you’re sinking down, build your foundation on the rock of God’s Word. Today, I invite you to do a building inspection of your life. If you want a stable life—one that doesn’t cave in when the rain comes—build it on the rock TODAY. One way to facilitate this is by working through the “Sermon on the Mount Personal Evaluation” worksheet below. Place a checkmark by the attitudes you have had and behaviors that you have actively been doing the past few weeks. Remember, you will not be rewarded in heaven for what you heard and believed, only for what you did.
If you have never believed in Christ as your foundation stone, do so today. At the moment you believe in Christ, your foundation turns from sand to stone. If Christ is your foundation stone, build your life on His teachings. I would encourage you to go home and find a small rock. Put the rock next to your computer monitor. Take it with you to the office. Put it in your kitchen or at your dining room table. This can be your stone of remembrance. It can signify your new relationship with Christ or your commitment to obey Him wholeheartedly.
The Sermon on the Mount concludes in 7:28–29 with Matthew’s powerful first-hand account: “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” The crowds were amazed at two things: the matter and the manner of His teaching. They were astounded by what He taught. He differed from anyone they had heard before. He didn’t urge them to new forms of religion, to give more money, or to attend services more often. He didn’t summon them to a greater commitment to a religious routine. He kept going back to their motives, to what they were deep inside. He said that what mattered to God was their relationship with Him. He said that true religion wasn’t a performance; it was a deep reality of who we are deep inside.

In addition to their amazement at the matter of Jesus’ teaching, the crowd was impressed by the manner in which He taught. Jesus taught as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law. Rabbis were highly educated. They knew their 2,000 years of religious tradition inside and out, and they had studied all the learned opinions but they did not teach as if they had authority. In most of their teaching they simply quoted the experts. Listening to them was like listening to someone read an extended footnote. As a college student, you don’t have credibility or authority so your professors expect you to liberally use footnotes to bolster your authority. Jesus, however, uses no footnotes! Standing 2,000 years away from the Sermon on the Mount, we may not appreciate the significance of this difference. Jesus was about thirty years of age, not very old by the standards of the ancient world. He had grown up in Nazareth, a small town of little importance. He was a carpenter. He had not gone to the schools the rabbis attended. He had never studied the religious traditions. And yet, Jesus spoke with an authority that the older scribes did not possess.

Even the Old Testament prophets introduced their message by saying, “Thus says the Lord.” That little phrase appears almost 3,000 times in the Old Testament. The prophets did not speak with their own authority; they spoke with the authority of God. It is striking that Jesus never used that phrase. He spoke with His own authority. He spoke with authority all through the sermon when He interpreted or reapplied the law, when He promised, when He commanded, when He prohibited. Not in the name of God, but as God Himself. The people had never heard anyone do that because no one like Him had ever appeared on earth before. Indeed, Jesus Christ was and is amazing!

The sad thing is: The crowd didn’t accept Jesus as Savior; they were merely impressed. Don’t stop at being impressed with Jesus’ words. Amazement is not enough! Many religious leaders, professors, literary writers, and moral people have been impressed with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. But this is inadequate. Belief in Christ is necessary for salvation. Obedience to Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount is necessary for Christian health and growth. Therefore, if we could sum up Jesus’ words we might put it like this: “Draw a line on the rock, not in the sand.” The rock signifies the person and teachings of the Lord Jesus; the sand symbolizes your worldview.

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