(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on February 8, 2015)
‘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.’
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:24-28, TNIV)
Jesus, skilled teacher that he is, brings the Sermon on the Mount to a close with a powerful image.
Building on the rock, building on sand…this is a picture that worked in the arid desert of first century Israel, and it works in our world of today. We get the power of ocean and wind and storm. More importantly, we have Google images, and can subject ourselves to increasingly ridiculous images of what it means to build on a rock.
And then we can work from minor to major on the collapse on the sand.
The one danger of a powerful image is that it works on so many levels and in so many ways, that over time, the image takes over what is actually said. How many of you are like me, and whenever you hear or read this verse, you think of the children’s song? Have you ever noticed the interpretive license taken with that song? Have you noticed the way the image has taken over and another point is made?
It’s happened in one of the great hymns of the church, too. This is not a bad message. This is a great message! Christ is the Rock, all other ground is sinking sand. Great message! True message!
But it’s not the message of the text. It isn’t what Jesus actually teaches. Look again at his words–what exactly is it that Jesus equates with building a house on a rock? [ASK] And what exactly is it that Jesus identifies with building on sand? [ASK]
Again, there isn’t anything wrong with what those songs are teaching.
It is good for us to “build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ”, to stand “on Christ the Solid Rock”. It’s also important for us not to lose exactly what Jesus teaches here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, to not let it get lost in the beauty of the image.
Jesus is clearly saying that the wise course of action, the way to build a foundation in your life that will stand the tests and storms that will come, is not just to listen to what he says…it’s actually to put what Jesus says into practice. The way to compromise the foundation of your life so that it will collapse and fail when the wind blows and conflict comes, is to hear what Jesus says, maybe even agree with it and like it and teach it…but then fail to put it into practice.
So the dangerous thing about us spending the last 6 months off and on examining the Sermon on the Mount is that now we’ve heard it…now we have to decide if we will put it into practice, or not.
In many ways, what Jesus is doing at the end of his time of teaching is telling us in a very practical way how to stand on Christ, the Solid Rock. The way we do it is to practice what he preaches. It is to not just be hearers of the word, but doers.
It is the road of obedience. If that word raises your blood pressure a bit or brings up past bad memories, I’d offer a way to re-claim that word. Obedience is trying to put stuff into practice. It doesn’t always mean you have it figured out, or that you do it perfectly. It certainly isn’t a word that means, “Do this because I said so!”
The tone here at the end is beautiful. I can hear Jesus saying, “I’ve spent all this time saying all these things to you because you and I both know that life is difficult. I want to help you when the times get difficult! I want you to be able to live and stand and not collapse. I’ve said all this stuff about anxiety and worry and God’s trustworthiness not just to hear myself speak…I’ve said it so you can walk forward in line with what I’ve said, and have confidence.”
I also love the very end. If this were a movie screenplay, verses 28 and 29 would be describing the reaction shot. This phrasing comes up often in the gospels, and I often wonder what it was that convinced the crowds that Jesus “taught as one who had authority.” I’m pretty sure it had very little to do with the volume of his speaking, and completely convinced it was not because of any religious position…because he had none.
Many believe it’s the miracles Christ performed and the life he led as evidence of power, as evidence of his authority. He backed up what he taught with evidence of the power of God in his life. And here at the end of his longest section of teaching, he’s telling us that we, too, can live with that kind of power and authority shining through. We can be ones who stand, not collapse, when hard times come. When we choose to put his words into practice, our lives will demonstrate a sturdiness that adds to the evidence of God’s power and authority…in Christ, and even now living in us.
I think that’s what’s here.
I don’t think we need a lot today from me about what this means. The meaning is pretty clear: you’ve heard Jesus’ words, now the wise way to live in order to face the turmoil of life is to put what he taught into practice in your life.
So I’m going to be quiet. We’ll continue in worship, first through singing, and then in open worship. I want to invite us during open worship to take our bibles or one of the ones in front of you, and prayerfully look through chapters 5,6 and 7 of Matthew. I invite us to remind ourselves of what we’ve been taught over the last few months, and find a section that you will intentionally choose to put into practice.
After some time in open worship, I’ll come back up. I’m going to ask some of you to share the section that stood out to you, so we can hear from several in the room what parts of Jesus’ teaching are rising to the surface. Then, I’m going to ask if some want to share what they are going to practically try to do this week to live out the teaching that stood out to them. We’ll close the service with that time of us teaching and encouraging each other to be wise…to put these words into practice.