August 18, 2019
Sermon on the Mount-Matt 7:24-27
Now this is sort of a weird question-but have you ever had the chance to read your own obituary? I trust no one is raising their hands saying yes to that question, but I read a story where it did happen to a man named Alfred back in 1888. Imagine your surprise when you’re sitting down to a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper, thumbing through the pages when you stumble upon your own obituary! What a way to start your day! Am I dead? Wouldn’t you be shocked? This man Alfred was, but he obviously realized that it was a mistake, he was alive and well. What happened was that the newspaper had erroneously published his obituary instead of his brother’s obituary, Ludwig, who had just passed away. They wrote up the obituary of the wrong guy. Now the paper corrected it and the confusion was soon cleared up-but not before it caused Alfred to do some serious soul-searching. This is where the story gets really fascinating because the obituary headline for Alfred said these famous words, The Merchant of Death is Dead! And the reason it said that was because Alfred was the man who had invented dynamite. The obituary didn’t hold anything back, but said-Dr. Alfred, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday. That sentence had summed up Alfred’s life to that point because he had built a name for himself, along with a fortune for himself, by working with explosives that led to the invention of dynamite. Quite shaken by this condemning appraisal of his life, Alfred vowed to use his wealth to change his legacy, and build his life on something that would promote peace not destruction. And that’s how you and I know his name today because over the next 8 years Alfred signed over the bulk of his wealth, over $9 million dollars back then, for the establishment of the Nobel Prizes. This man was Dr. Alfred Nobel-inventor of dynamite, but the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead of building his legacy as The Merchant of Death, he changed and built his lasting legacy as the Promoter of Peace, recognizing those who worked hard to benefit humanity by awarding them a Nobel Prize. So all-in-all reading his obituary ahead of time was a blessing in disguise, it was the wake-up call he desperately needed.
Now obviously you and I probably aren’t going to get that same opportunity to accidentally stumble across our obituary in the NY Times-at least I hope we don’t-but we still have the same decision to make that Alfred Nobel did-what are we going to build our lives upon? What’s the legacy we’re building now, what’s the life we’re trying to create and the decisions we’re making-because that’s the idea that Jesus ends His Sermon on the Mount on. Turn to Matthew 7.
And you will see that Jesus concludes his first great sermon with a little story-v. 24-25a. Is there an old tune starting to form in your head? Think back to your Sunday school days. Remember the song-The wise man built his house upon the rock…and the rains came tumbling down. The rains came down and the floods came up…and the house on the rock stood firm. Which is exactly what Jesus says-v.25. This guy built his house on something that’s solid and lasts. But do you remember the second half of the song? The foolish man built his house upon the sand. And it’s the same-The rains came down and the floods came up-but the house on the sand went splat! That action is like crushing a bug-but it’s exactly what Jesus says-v.26-27-a great big splat!
So this little story isn’t hard to understand, it’s simple and straight-forward. One guy’s house stands, one guy’s falls. We might be tempted to think of it as just a childish little SS story-but we can’t do that because the point Jesus is making is incredibly profound. In order to really understand what Jesus is saying and let it sink in, I want to address some key questions. As I just said it’s a story about two guys-a wise builder and a foolish builder-two main characters. What’s hard to figure out there? But this is often the nature of Jesus’ storytelling-He divides people into two groups. Last week we looked at those who know the Lord and those who don’t in vv. 21-23; week before that we talked about the good trees and the bad trees-there wasn’t any middle of the road slightly decent trees-it’s just good or bad. A few weeks before that we talked about those who travel down the wide road and those who travel down the narrow road; later on in Matthew Jesus will talk about the people on His left and the people on His right; He’ll talk about those who are sheep and those who are goats; those who have life and those who don’t. It’s always 2 categories-no more, no less. Now you and I aren’t always fans of these categories-why only 2? We wish Jesus would give us about 4 or 5 categories of people-that we’re somewhere in the middle or trying to remain neutral-but we can’t escape the fact that ultimately Jesus boils it down to only 2 categories when referring to people which makes each one of us ask which category we fall into. And in this particular story-notice how each category has something similar, something in common. Did you see what it was? V. 24-wise man built his house on the rock, v. 26-foolish man built his house on the sand. Jesus is saying that all of us are builders. So Pt1:Who is Jesus talking about? All of us are building our lives on something. That includes you and me. When hearing this story-the question isn’t whether you’re building something. I’m sure a lot of couldn’t build a house if our lives depended on it! But that’s the analogy-because the reality is that every one of us are building our lives on something. What is it that we’re building upon? Are you a wise or foolish builder-because each of us are one or the other.
Jesus is saying there’s no middle ground, there’s no third option. You can’t say-I didn’t build my house on the rock or the sand, I built it in the forest-got a lot of shade there! As nice as a house in the forest might sound, that option doesn’t exist. The wise man is building his life on the rock, the foolish man is building his life on the sand-but both are builders-and so are we. Think about life. We’re building all the time-building families, building homes, building reputations, building our resume, building our portfolio, building careers, building up a business, building up our bank account, building our retirement fund. We’re always building-the question Jesus wants us to wrestle with is whether we’re wise or foolish builders. So to make His point Jesus uses a comparison we can all understand, building a house. Upon researching this, I referenced a book on the Parables of Jesus by a theological scholar named Klyne Snodgrass-what an incredible name! But Klyne Snodgrass said that two-thousand years ago when Jesus told this parable houses were frequently built with stone. Archeological excavations revealed that the majority of houses were often one or two stories high composed of rough masonry construction with foundations cut into rock. And even lesser quality homes had at least a layer or two of rock at their base even if mud was used for the upper levels.
So the hearers of this story even back then clearly knew the importance of rock as a foundation and base for their homes. No one with any intelligence would build a house on the sand because it’s not an adequate foundation. Now everyone loves a house on the beach-but a bunch of shifting sand isn’t going to hold that house up. Even at the beach with something as simple as an umbrella-you twist it deeply into the sand in order to make it secure. We’ve all had a gust of wind blow through and topple an umbrella. So we understand the principle that sand isn’t a good foundation-especially with a house between wind does blow. And here Jesus tells us that something much stronger than that comes. Did you catch how descriptive Jesus was? Rains fell, floods came, winds blew and beat against the house! We’re talking big storms. This isn’t a little rain but severe thunderstorms. No doubt we’ve all experienced being inside when a thunderstorm or a hurricane or nor’easter is raging and we hope our houses will hold up. How about that microburst that happened a back in June on that Sunday afternoon-all of a sudden, without warning the skies grew black and some intense winds blew through knocking down lots of trees. I think of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz frightened to death as her house is shaking and spinning during the tornado. Now hopefully our houses won’t be like her’s and land in a place surrounded by Munchkins-but Jesus is saying the results of what we’ve built will be tested. The wind and rain and floods will come. Storms in life are inevitable-just like they are in the weather. We can’t avoid them no matter how much we try. And that’s the other piece of similarity in this parable. Just as Pt1-so P2:What happens in life? All of us will experience storms and trials. It was the same scenario for both guys. Jesus wasn’t just saying that the foolish guy experienced the storms-that he wasn’t too smart and had it coming to him. The wise man experienced storms too. He encountered the same struggles. Jesus isn’t saying- Follow me and you won’t experience storms-all will be smooth sailing in life. Contrary to what lots of Christians wrongly think-following Jesus isn’t a storm-free life. He never promised that. He never said becoming a believer means you’ll leave all your troubles behind. Instead in this parable Jesus is clearly saying that storms will come-so be ready for them. Be wise because you are going to experience difficulties, challenges, trials, temptations. Maybe you’re going through some right now. Maybe some particularly bad storms are raging in your life. It’s not a matter of trying to avoid them-storms are an inevitability-its a matter of where you’re building your foundation for when they do come. Because clearly things did not end well for the guy living on the sandy beach.
In our 1st year of marriage, Monica and I remember camping with some friends one weekend outside Houston, TX. That was where we first lived and so on warm, spring Friday we headed out of Houston to a beautiful state park along Lake Conroe. And following their lead, we pitched our tents right along the water’s edge and I didn’t think much of it. We spent the day hiking, enjoying the great outdoors. Later that night, however, as we stood out on the pier overlooking the lake we saw a big alligator swimming in the water. People were tossing it pieces of hamburger and it gobbled it up. And as I watched that I thought back to all my Discovery Channel viewing-Don’t alligators come up to the shore? And so I quickly reasoned-The wise man pitches his tent in the forest and saves his limbs from being alligator food, and the foolish man pitches his tent along the shore and loses his limbs come morning. Needless to say, I got no sleep that night thinking that at any minute this alligator was going to chew right through our tent and bite off my leg! But this parable isn’t talking about losing limbs-it’s far worse. Jesus is talking about complete ruin, utter destruction The house fell and great was its fall. The foolish man doesn’t just suffer a wrecked house, a financial crisis, it’s not bad health or marital problems or unemployment or rejection from friends, Jesus is highlighting God’s final judgment.
These storms aren’t only the storms of life-yes they include that-storms of trouble and crisis often blow through our lives-but ultimately these storms are referring to Judgment Day-the time when these men have to stand before the Lord and give an account of their lives. The wise man is saved while the foolish man isn’t, the wise man has a house and a future, the foolish man doesn’t. So Jesus is speaking of that which is most important, life and death-that is to say, heaven and hell. Jesus’ perspective looks far beyond this life-and takes into account the life to come. And that’s where the twist in the story comes. While we may have thought that it was about two men building their lives in different ways-two different personalities, two different ideas, two different options for living-one’s more responsible, the other’s a bit more hasty-but we’re all unique so why not build as you see fit? But Jesus says-No-it’s not an issue of personality types or differing values or ideas on what you think best, it’s about the fact that one day what you’ve built will be judged, one day what you’ve done and who you’ve trusted in will be evaluated-and if it’s anything other than the Rock-other than Me, you will not stand. Jesus’ story is very reminiscent of Psalm 1 NIV. That’s what Jesus is saying in Matt 7. The foolish man will collapse and perish.
And it’s so tragic because I want you to notice something in the parable that really struck me as I prepared this sermon-v. 26a. The foolish man heard Jesus’ teaching, he was there-in church, maybe he’d read portions of his Bible or had Christian friends or Christian parents. He couldn’t plead ignorant or say he had no idea what to do or who to turn to. He heard Jesus’ words. In one ear out the next. Who doesn’t suffer from selective hearing! When your spouse gives you the list of chores to do or things to pick up at the store. Or when you’re distracted or watching tv-Uhuh, yes, uhuh, yes. You’re hearing the words-but certainly not listening or acting on them. That’s this guy-the words went into his ears but there was no response, he didn’t internalize it, he didn’t obey or follow through. He didn’t build his life on Jesus. Instead he built his life according to his interests and his agenda-what he thought best. You know-building on sand sounds fun-love the beach-this is a quick and easy option. And yet he’s swept away by the storms, truly swept away to his own destruction by God’s final judgment. As Jesus tells this story, He’s not saying that His teaching is recommended, that it’s a good idea to listen to Him, that you’ll improve yourself if you listen to Him and maybe get something out of it. Jesus’ teaching is a call to trust Him, to have an allegiance to Him, and surrender yourself to what He says. Put your faith in Me, not in yourself or anything else-because that’s the difference between life and death, between standing on the rock or collapsing on the sand when the day of judgment comes. Neither you nor I are an expert on eternal life, neither you nor I have ever died before, or have ever been to heaven or know what lies beyond the grave. We don’t. But Jesus does. He’s the eternal 2nd person of the Trinity, the Son of God saying-trust in Me, not in yourself. So we can either heed His words and listen to the one who knows-or we can foolishly rely upon ourselves and our own guesswork. There’s a famous sermon on this passage preached back in 1930 by an American pastor named Clovis Gillham Chappell. Another great name this morning! Chappell (Wiersbe, 159)
There is only one foundation, there is only one Rock, there is only one kind of person who will stand when judgment day comes-and it’s the one who builds his life on Jesus. So Pt3:How should I build? Only those who build their lives on Jesus will stand (all other ground is sinking sand). That answer is simple but infinitely crucial-build your life on the Rock. Build your life on what lasts, and that’s Jesus. As we clearly see, there are two groups of people in this world-and only two-the wise and the foolish. So the challenge for you and me is to be wise, to be in the group that stands on the day of judgment. The wise man is the one who’s aware of the coming storm, that life will end, and therefore, lives accordingly, knowing he’ll give an account of his life before the Lord. The wise man is the one who lives with his obituary in view and asks-what am I building my life upon? That’s a soul-searching question.
The wise man looks at his own abilities and efforts and humbly realizes it isn’t enough. The wise man concludes that all his good works, all his morality, all his hard work to live right and please God simply won’t cut it-that building upon himself is like building on the sand. He realizes that as a sinner all his righteousness and goodness just washes away like sand castles on the beach. Look at Rom 3:20, 23. No human can stand in the presence of a holy God, except Jesus. He was the only perfect person to live, the only one whose righteousness measured up, the only one who never sinned because He was both fully God and fully Man. So He alone can stand in God’s presence and that means you and I have to abandon our own self-righteousness, and trust in Jesus. We have to abandon the idea that we’ve tried our best and lived a good enough life, because we haven’t, only His life was good enough to save us. His death alone covers our sin and brings forgiveness and eternal life. Our role is to piggy-back on Him. We grab on to Jesus and hang on. When was the last time you had a piggy-back ride-or gave one? My kids jumped on my back this past week as we were walking through the sand to Fire Island. That’s what faith is. When this life is over and we’re standing before God, we say-Lord, I can’t be here in heaven on my own account-I have sinned and messed up too much, but I’m holding on Jesus. He’s the Rock, He’s my Savior and I’m clinging to Him-Piggy backing on Him! Or to think of it another way-faith is the ultimate-I’m with Him statement. It’s like if your friend has concert tickets to a sold-out show or backstage passes-and the security guard stops you to basically say get out of here-you don’t have the right credentials or tickets to be here-but you point to your friend and say-I don’t-but I’m with Him-and He does. He’s getting me in because He has the right credentials! Rom 3:23-24. Not justified or redeemed because of yourself-and what you’ve done-but justified freely by His grace. All that He’s done in saving you. It’s a wonderfully freeing place to be, there’s no greater promise than that, yet it’s also a humbling place to be-and that’s why Jesus says the road to life is narrow not wide.
This is why He says in v.21-23. The gospel is offensive-few people want to truly admit that on their own they’re helpless and don’t have a leg to stand on; that their own life, no matter how hard they try, or how good they’ve worked at being is nothing more than a foundation of sand, waiting to be washed away. Is your confidence of salvation in the good things you’ve done? Notice how the person in v. 22 boasted of doing mighty things but it did him no good. Jesus said depart from me. You see the wise man doesn’t boast of his good and mighty deeds, he boasts of a mighty Savior. And that’s the last point-Pt4:What’s the difference between being wise and foolish? Humbly trusting in a mighty Savior, not in our mighty deeds. Huge difference! It’s recognizing the need to hear and do what Jesus says-not to go your own way or boast of your own efforts. You can’t save yourself, only the Savior saves. And that means you have to build your life upon Him, not build it upon yourself.
And I’ll be the first to say-that doesn’t come naturally. It’s normal for us to build upon ourselves. Why do you think the foolish man built on the sand-because it’s easy. It doesn’t require any effort or discipline or sweat. Build your house, live your life. You get up every morning, scarf down breakfast, dash out the door, get to work and go about your business-maybe you offer up a prayer every now and then when something in your job challenges you, but for the most part you handle things, you do it all. At the day’s end you come home, eat dinner, do the dishes, talk with your family or friends, watch TV and then go to bed-ready to start all over again. Very little of your day is spent listening to Jesus, following Him or speaking to Him. Or maybe you realize you do need Him so you try to live your life with a bit of God added in, like trying to add a little fiber into your diet-but that’s not what this passage is saying. The wise man didn’t add a bit of the Rock to his life, Jesus says the wise man built His life upon the Rock. Another huge difference! It means the Rock, Jesus, becomes the centerpiece. That you don’t live life based on what comes naturally, instead you purposefully and wisely rearrange your life around Jesus.
Let me give some practical examples of this. 1) The wise man is someone who makes God’s Word a priority in his life. It’s not someone who just vaguely remembers Bible stories or random verses, instead it’s someone who carves out time to read it for himself-even when he’s busy because he knows that reading God’s Word is how we hear His voice. 2) The wise man is a someone of prayer who doesn’t speak to the Lord every so often or only when trouble strikes, but prays and communicates with the Lord regularly because he realizes his total dependence on the Lord. 3) The wise man is someone who lives and works with integrity and honesty. It’s someone of character, who shows patience and love. The wise man is willing to make sacrifices, he’s someone who takes time for others and doesn’t always make life about himself because he models his life after Jesus. 4) The wise man is someone who fights against the endless wave of busyness in life-who stops in the middle of the rushing waters of our hectic schedules and says, “No, my life isn’t going to be washed along by all the stuff that’s going on and keeps me going a mile a minute.” Instead the wise man says, “Lord, I begin with You. You direct my schedule, You prioritize my life, may I follow You-not have You follow me. May my life be built upon You and your will-not trying to build you into what I’m already doing.”
If you had to write out your obituary this afternoon, what would it say? As of right now how would your life be remembered? How would you summarize it? Would it be a life of fruitfulness and godly purpose, a life well-lived and built on the Lord, a life rich in relationships, or would it be a life of regrets and frustrations, a life of missed opportunities built upon yourself? What would your obituary say? If you asked a friend or your spouse to write it, what would they say about you? And more importantly, what would God say about your life, how would He summarize it? According to this parable, you’re either living like a wise man or a foolish man-there’s no middle ground. You’re either building on the rock or you’re building on the sand. And in Jesus’ day, no one in their right minds would build a house on the sand-so why do we do it with our lives-something of far greater significance? If your life is built on anything less than Jesus beware that you are building a house of cards-that will one day fall and collapse.
And when I think about falling and collapsing-another great story comes to mind-Yertle the Turtle. Yertle felt very secure and pleased with what he’d built for himself as king-and it stood for awhile-but there came a day when it fell to pieces-and great was his fall. He built his life on himself and it didn’t last-what about you? Are you like Yertle high atop your throne thinking you’re in charge-even crushing others under you? Don’t wait until your life falls apart-stop building upon yourself and build on Jesus-the Rock who will never fall. That’s because when you build on Jesus He will never let you go!