From 1993 to 1996, I spent three delightfully painful years teaching through Jesus’ sermon on the mount. If you don’t understand what I mean, take some time to read Matthew 5-7 and you’ll get it.
As Jesus concluded his teaching – being the master teacher – He used a picture of two builders: One wise and one foolish. The sermon on the mount is mostly structured around sets of two.
“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 7:24-29, NIV).
The two builders have clear similarities and differences.
- Both hear the words of Christ,
- Both build a house
- Both experience a storm (rain, flood, rivers, and winds).
- One takes seriously the Lord’s words by obeying them; the other does not.
- They build their houses on different foundations and experience different outcomes to the storm.
Jesus used an illustration familiar to his audience. The autumn storm season brought heavy rains, powerful gusty winds and torrential flooding from the mountains into the ravines.
They can picture each builder’s house being pounded by a storm. Perhaps the casual observer would not recognize any differences between the two houses without thinking about the foundation. Others, however, would have noticed where the foolish builder was building and shook their heads with doubt about his project. “Why would he build in such a vulnerable location?”
The point of connection is a similarity beyond the physical act of house-building. Both “spiritual house builders” Jesus said, “hears these words of mine.”
How much can we extract from this common part of the story?
Different answers have been offered. The most immediate application would be to hearing of the “Sermon on the Mount.” Before moving to possible secondary applications, it’s always important to seek the primary application by placing yourself in the seat of the original recipients.
Imagine sitting in the original audience listening to Jesus teach. At the end he declares, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…” What words? The entire sermon beginning in Matthew 5:3.
Moving to secondary applications, some commentators suggest that Jesus is referring to two people who belong to the same Christian community, maybe even the same church
John Stott suggested that, “both are members of the visible Christian community. Both read the Bible, go to church, listen to sermons and buy Christian literature.” (Sermon on the Mount). Another suggested that both builders build in the same general location, because they apparently were hit with the same storm.
In other words, the outward circumstances of their lives were essentially the same. One had no advantage over the other. They lived in the same town and possibly attended the same church, heard the same preaching, went to the same Bible study with the same friends.
While we must respect the restrictions of context, the very nature of metaphor or illustration invites the listener to create a mental picture of the truth intended.
In this case, the context offers additional insight. Notice the first word of verse 24 – “therefore.” (unfortunately, the New Living Translation did not include this word). Whenever you see “therefore,” stop to ask what it’s there for. It typically functions as a connection to a previous section.
The connection seems to be to Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 7:21-23 present people who consider themselves part of the Christian community. They call Christ “Lord” and profess to do kingdom related works (prophesy, cast out demons, and perform miracles in Christ’s name).
But these people are impostors and final judgment exposes them.
The ultimate difference between the two house builders is exposed through some catastrophic storm. The storm reveals that one built on a rock foundation (the wise builder) and one built on sand (the foolish builder). And the difference in foundations is directly related to the their response to Jesus’ words; one hears and obeys; the other hears and does not obey.
Could the final storm be an illustration for the day of Judgement mentioned in Matthew 7:21-23? Or, does the storm picture the expected weather of autumn season and therefore, the typical trials of life?
“The reason you often cannot tell the difference between them is that the deep foundations of their lives are hidden from view. The real question is not whether they hear Christ’s teaching (nor even whether they respect or believe it), but whether they do what they hear. Only a storm will reveal the truth. Sometimes a storm of crisis or calamity betrays what manner of person we are, for ‘true piety is not fully distinguished from its counterfeit till it comes to the trial’. If not, the storm of the day of judgment will certainly do so.” (John Stott, Ibid) (cf. Ezekiel 13:8-16 and Matthew 13:18-21).
Perhaps in application, we could say that the house = one’s life, while the foundation = the basis for one’s life and the storm = the trials of life (repetitive testing of what you built) or final judgment (cf. Matthew 7:21-23).
The ultimate point of authority for Jesus’ audience is the Law of God – the O.T. Scriptures. (They added the traditions in the writings of the Rabbis). But Jesus comes along and says, “Everyone who hears THESE WORDS OF MINE.”
In Matthew 5:17, he placed himself as the focal point of the Law and Prophets, and throughout Matthew 5 he takes up the formula, “you have heard it said, but I say to you…” Whereas the O.T. prophets and teachers of Israel said, “Thus says the Lord”; Jesus said, “I say to you”.
And, in Matthew 7, Jesus connected “doing the will of the Father” in verse 21 and “doing these words of mine” making both of them equally tests of one’s entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
Is surprising that the multitudes were amazed at his authoritative teaching?