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"What are You Building On?"

Sept.14, 2014 Mt.7:21-28


The apostle Paul went through a lot of hard knocks in his life. Beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, accusations - they can really rattle a person! But they couldn't shake Paul's confidence in the truth of the Good News about Jesus. He wrote to the Corinthians about the "basics" they could stand firm on: "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..." (1Co 15:1-4)

What do you know most "for sure" in your life? What are your non-negotiables, the "bottom line" certainties you'd stake your life on? The apostle Peter said believers should "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1Pet 3:15) Have you thought through your "reasons"? Where would you begin as most basic, most fundamental?

Foundations are important. In August we visited a couple on St.Joseph Island whose marriage I'd performed some 25 years ago. The husband works as a custodian at Central Algoma Secondary School at Desbarats. He explained that some major structural work had to be done at the school in 2008. In the mid-1970s when the high school was built, 6 fig trees had been planted in its courtyard in big 12x8-foot planters. Over the years the roots of the trees had grown extensively underneath the school, some roots reaching as far as 50 feet away. The school started to settle: there were cracks in the walls, tiles affected, doors wouldn't shut. In some parts it settled as much as 4 inches, so floors were visibly affected.

The trees were removed and engineers called in. Their solution? 21 piles or "helical anchors" screwed into the subsoil at a depth of up to 70 feet! The load was transferred to the new anchors, the walls jacked up hydraulically, cracks filled in. The school building was rescued from falling apart.

In today's reading, Jesus cautions us to give careful consideration to the foundation of our faith: are we building on His truth, or flimsy substrate? Like those fig trees so innocently planted to adorn the school's courtyard, are there factors we've accepted into our lives that are silently, insidiously undermining our faith in Christ, or interfering with our effectiveness in His Kingdom?


In Mt 7:24, Jesus refers to hearing and putting into practice "these words of mine". What words is He referring to? In the immediate context, that would be the Sermon on the Mount, which He's just wrapping up; it started back in chapter 5. If we're to be His followers, we need to be choosing to accept and implement His teaching rather than conventional wisdom; Christ's words, not the world's.

Back in Isaiah 8, God likewise counsels the prophet not to follow conventional thinking, but to trust in Him as their rock. Vv11-14 "The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people.He said: 'Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread...For both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.'" Some more 'foundation' or 'grounding' type imagery there! God as the immovable rock we have to allow for, or clash with at our peril.

Back to the Sermon on the Mount. We can infer items of "conventional wisdom" that contrast with Christ's words. In the beatitudes (5:3-11), the world would say happiness comes when things are going your way; you're all healthy, things are rosy; you're getting your way through self-assertion. By contrast, Christ says blessed are those who are poor in spirit (Lk 6:20 just plain "poor"), who mourn, and are meek. Conventional - happiness lets others get away with taking advantage of suckers; means you get all you deserve, and more; you're entertained by what's "juicy" or racy. Christ - blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, show mercy, are pure in heart. Conventional - happy are those who wield clout ("might makes right"); who have all the right connections with big shots; happiness is hearing people speak well of you. Christ says - blessed are the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness; you're blessed when you're insulted, persecuted, falsely spoken against on account of Him.

That's just the Beatitudes! What are some other "conventional wisdom" items in this seminal sermon? 5:16 conventional wisdom says, "Show off!" Get maximum exposure; Christ says, let people see your good deeds in order that they may praise your Heavenly Father (rather than get credit yourself). 5:19 Conventional: break and bend the rules when you can; "everybody's doing it", see what you can get away with. Christ says practice and teach the commands of the Law. 5:21 Conventional: "It's bad to kill people;" Christ goes further - to even be angry at your brother makes you subject to judgment. 5:27 Conventional - adultery is wrong; Christ says it's sinful even to look lustfully at a woman (5:28). 5:38 Conventional - revenge is OK as long as the punishment is commensurate with (matches) the crime; Christ says let them hit you again, take even more (5:39f). 5:43 Conventional - love your neighbour, hate your enemy; Christ counters, "Love your enemy" (5:44).

The contrasts continue in chapter 6.Vv1,5 Conventional wisdom suggests, Give your acts of righteousness high profile, pray publicly for full effect: let your religiosity be seen by others as an example, milk it for full personal benefit. Christ says: give in secret, pray in secret: the Heavenly Father sees you (6:4,6). Conventional wisdom says "take revenge rather than forgive", you have a right to be angry; 6:14f Christ says, forgive if you would be forgiven. Here's a biggie - conventional wisdom tells us to accumulate wealth for security; 6:19 Christ says, "store up treasures in heaven NOT on earth." Conventional - let your eyes wander wherever they like (that's what advertising's all about, isn't it?); 6:22f Christ says, keep your eyes good so you'll be full of light rather than darkness.

Most bluntly in 6:24, conventional wisdom says "Serve money"; Christ says, "Serve God NOT money" - you can't serve both! 6:25 Conventional thinking - pay attention to your food and clothes; Christ says, don't worry about what the pagans run after calling them "necessities": instead, make God's Kingdom and righteousness your number one priority.

And a couple from chapter 7: v12 conventional - think of yourself first; Christ says, put others first by asking yourself, how would YOU want to be treated if you were in their shoes? 7:13 conventional wisdom - take the wide gate, the broad road, the easy way, follow the crowd; 7:14 Christ's words - hunt out the narrow road that leads to life, follow the few not the crowd.

That's a very quick summary, a high-altitude fly-over of the Sermon on the Mount: but do you get a sense of how much Christ's words contrast with "conventional wisdom"? How un-natural to fallen men and women His teaching seems? Yet He calls His disciples to that narrow path, the hard way. The sermon's teachings are an ethical pinnacle of godly wisdom, so "counter" to our normal selfish tendencies as to seem impossible to keep perfectly. We recognize their lofty value, but struggle when it comes to actually carrying them out. In our own strength, they're impossible! That's just it: He never meant us to keep them without His help - their perfection drives us to admit our need of God in order to obey them. Myron Augsburger notes, "The Sermon on the Mount is an ethical guide that confronts all people with the higher will of God.It is expected of the disciple of Christ who lives by His grace and walks in the Spirit."


So, in 7:24, consider Jesus' phrase "these words of mine" as pointing back to that whole body of teaching since chapter 5, that sublime Sermon on the Mount. Are we really prepared to live that way? Christ's teaching unveils God's will, how our Heavenly Father WANTS His children to live. But often churchgoers miss the point. Jesus says in 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Genuine faith results not in lipservice [saying 'Lord, Lord'] but doing God's will. As James observed, "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (Jas 2:17) William Barclay wrote, "Faith without practice is a contradiction in terms, and love without obedience is an impossibility." The proof of love is obedience.

Unfortunately in the church we have been very good at being busy running fine programs at the expense of actually KNOWING Jesus. Instead of relationship and engaging Him in prayer and true worship, we settle for religious activity and excitement. Vv22f "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'" [Doesn't that sound just like "a-happenin'" church? Signs and wonders, people getting "slain in the spirit", apparent miracles happening, evil spirits being driven out? But sometimes those things can be 'faked.' How does Jesus respond to these folks?] "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.Away from me, you evildoers!'"

HUH? "I never KNEW you - evil DO-ers"? Church activity does not equal accord or alignment with the Father's purpose. Clearly Jesus implies knowing Him relationally is more important than mere religious activity. So, how's your personal devotional life? Are you sharing daily your problems and yearnings with your Saviour through prayer? Could joining a small group help you know Him better? Do you have a "buddy" or small circle with whom you can share insights from your daily study, and private prayer concerns? Discipleship as Jesus understands it should engage us relationally.


Jesus closes His seminal sermon with a vivid illustration, the wise and foolish builders, vv24-27. What are the factors in common? Both men build a house; every day you and I are building a life, making choices, developing habits, pursuing goals. Piece by piece, you are assembling a life, a career, a reputation, a heritage.

In both cases, there is adversity. "The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house" (vv 25,27): life's troubles come, circumstances test what we're trying to scrape together and assemble piece by piece. But more may be in view here. John MacArthur comments, "The house represents a religious life; the rain represents divine judgment. Only the one built on the foundation of obedience to God's Word stands."

On Monday, heavy wet snow plummeted onto Calgary and tested the strength of the tree branches: many cracked and came crashing down on cars and power lines. Storms and testing await each of us. The Bible asserts a final judgment is coming which will reveal the ultimate significance of our lives. Romans 14:10-12 "...we will all stand before God's judgment seat.It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God."

We will have to answer for our actions, give an account for our decisions. At the Great White Throne judgment in Revelation 20(12,14), on what basis are the dead judged? "...according to what they had done...each person was judged according to what he had done." When the final gavel falls, when the divine wind of absolute justice beats against the record of your accumulated actions, will your "house" stand fast because its foundation is on the rock? Or will it fall "with a great crash"? Will you implement Jesus' words, OR will divine judgment disintegrate you?

Both wise and foolish HEAR Jesus' words: the difference is, the wise person "puts them into practice". Would those who see you day by day say you're the kind of person who exemplifies the Sermon on the Mount? Humble, merciful, eager for righteousness, a peacemaker, pure in heart? Not getting enraged, looking lustfully, swearing? Loving your enemy, devoted to God not greedy for money, preoccupied more with Kingdom needs than with food or clothes? Put these words into practice, Jesus is saying.


The Sermon on the Mount struck its audience with astonishment. V28 "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching..." Literally, they "were struck out of themselves." Why? V29 "Because He taught as one who had AUTHORITY, and not as their teachers of the law." Robertson explains, "They had heard many sermons before from the regular rabbis in the synagogues. We have specimens of these discourses preserved in the Mishna and Gemara, the Jewish Talmud when both were completed, the driest, dullest collection of disjounted comments upon every conceivable problem in the history of mankind.The scribes quoted the rabbis before them and were afraid to express an idea without bolstering it up by some predecessor." Sounds tedious, doesn't it? "So-and-so says this; but this other so-and-so says that..." And so the power of God's word in the Biblical text became diluted by the opinions of fallible men added to it.

But here, in the Sermon on the Mount as delivered by Jesus, we're dealing with the very voice of One to whom we must one day give answer; the voice of One who spoke the universe into existence, and who originated humankind. In Acts 3:15 Peter refers to Jesus as "the Author of life", our supreme Source - "through Him all things were made" (Jn 1:3). This is Him who was crucified for us, who gave His life as an offering to save us from our sins; Him who could say after His resurrection, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Mt 28:18) This only perfect Man is our ultimate reference point: Jn 5(22,27) "Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son...And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man."

Have you let Jesus become THE authority in your life? More important than the "almighty dollar"? Is His opinion of you more important than what your peers think of you? In North American we have a cult of pleasure, doing what feels good drives us; dare you let Jesus be your driving force instead, even if He costs you some comfort, if discipleship means you do without some of the knick-knacks that window-dress others' lives? Acknowledge His authority, His "right" to take ownership in your life and steer your course.


Jesus says a wise man "hears these words of mine and puts them into practice." Obedience to His teaching gives a life significance, foundation.

Tony Campolo tells of a friend of his who once went to Princeton Seminary to hear the great Toyhitiko Kagawa deliver a sermon. Kagawa was a Japanese Christian who had risked his life time and time again during World War II in order to save American airmen who had been shot down over Japan. He hid them and did his best to keep them alive by sharing his limited supply of food. It wasn't that he sided with the American cause; it was just that his Christianity compelled him to love even those who were bombing and killing his friends and relatives. In giving himself to this ministry, he was eventually caught and tortured. While imprisoned he contracted tuberculosis.

As he spoke before the students, his body was frail and his voice was weak. Sitting next to my friend at the lecture were two seminarians who seemed to be unimpressed by Kagawa's testimony. At the end of the message one turned to the other and said, "He really didn't say very much -- did he?" At that point an elderly woman sitting in front of them turned and said, "Young man! When a man is hanging on a cross, he doesn't have to say anything at all!"

Campolo concludes, "Unless we are willing to pay the price, we cannot be part of the Kingdom.But those who do pay the price have credibility and deserve to be heard." It's a reverberation of that same credibility or authority Jesus had, backed by His obedience to the Father's will. Let's pray.