First Mennonite Church
June 29, 2014
Jesus Says: The Difference Lies On The Foundation
Matthew 7:13, 24-29
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
24 “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. 25 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. 26 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. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Jesus knew very well that in his inaugural teaching he had painted a radically different portrait of what his disciples look like. They are the light and salt of the world. To them belongs the kingdom of God. They will see God; they will inherit the earth. And they will be called children of God. But the disciples are also called to a radical commitment. They are to love their enemies and offer the other cheek. They are to diligently pursue holiness. They are practice their piety in secret and should not seek people’s approval or admiration. They are to serve one Master and rely on God for their sustenance.
After Jesus had delivered this long discourse, his audience was ready to hear the final challenge. And Jesus masterfully closes his sermon with a powerful call to his listeners. In the closing paragraph in chapter 7, Jesus artfully described the difference between the one who will benefit from of his words and the one who will not. But as of verse 13, Jesus aware of his high demands invited everyone to choose the narrow gate. Life is at the end of the narrow gate. Destruction and death are at the end of the easy-to-travel through and wide gate. Many are those who choose the wide gate, but few are those who take the narrow gate.
In verses 24-27, Jesus artfully describes the consequences to come based on the response each hearer gives to his words. Most likely, amongst the crowds listening to Jesus were parents with little children. There were older folks, business people, farmers, fishermen, and even religious leaders. These were people who knew the landscape around them. The landscape is rocky in Judea and house building is hard work, especially if a house is built properly and securely. When it rains in this rocky landscape, the soil in the crevices washes down, creating nice little plains which can be deceiving to unskilled builders. The sandy little plains among hill country can be indicative of where the flash floods happen on occasion. And Jesus knew of this problem and used it to illustrate how deceiving it is to only hear the word and not to act on it. Jesus knew that from among the crowds listening to him were people who had come out of curiosity only or to find fault in his teaching. But he also knew that there were people thirsting to know and do the will of God regardless of how difficult it would be for them. He knew that there were some eager to embark on the journey he just characterized as through the “narrow path or gate.”
As early as this point in Jesus’ ministry, he showed that every listener had equal opportunity to respond. How each responded to his message was a free choice. Jesus did not force anyone to act on what he said, but he did warn of the consequence. Some would choose to put the word into practice but some would choose to do nothing about it.
On the screen today is the Tower of Pisa, in the city of Pisa, Italy. The construction of the Tower of Pisa began in 1173 and was completed in 1399. Various architects and engineers worked in the two phases of construction during those two and a quarter centuries. When the third of the eight storeys was built, the building began to lean. The Tower leans about 18 feet off perpendicular. It was discovered that on the leaning side of the building, the foundation was laid on soft ground consisting of clay, fine sand and shells. It is fortunate that this building has been there for centuries and has not collapsed. Not so for the houses built on sandy ground, Jesus says.
This short parable of Jesus highlights two main points. The first has to do with where we build. As is pointed out regarding property, location is very important. But in Jesus’ parable location is not in reference to a zip code. It is about type of ground. This truth is poetically captured in the refrain of the song, we sang earlier today.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
(W. B. Bradbury, Mennonite Hymnal #558)
The houses might look alike but their strength to stand the raging storms of life depends on whether they are built on the Rock or on sinking sand. People, regardless of color and race, regardless of social status, physical features or any other distinction, look alike on the outside. When we go to the grocery store, we realize our common need: we all need to eat. When we go to the doctor we see another aspect: we all need medical care. But if we begin to look closer, we see that although I eat and so does the other person, we may have different tastes for food. If we look closer, although we need medical care, our medical needs might be different. But beyond these types of differences there is a fundamental difference that cannot be so obvious when we see the outer part of the person. The greatest difference between one and the other is whether or not one and the other has faith in Jesus. When the storms begin to beat against our fragile house, where do we seek reinforcement and security to keep standing? For those who believe in the Lord, they know that their strength is not within them. They know that in times of pain, in times of trouble and even loss, the God of the Bible sustains them. And we can rely on the grace of God. It is more difficult for the one who has not faith. However, those who are addressed by Jesus in this passage are actually people who hear the word. That means Jesus is not necessarily speaking to those outside of the faith, but to us who hear the word. And so the question is, where do you go for strength when you feel weak? What do you do when trouble arises, when health fails, when your faith and love are tried?
The disciple of Jesus finds strength in the Lord himself. The storm and beating rain come when our faith is tested. It comes when our patience and love are tested. The storm can be the inner struggle we have when setting our priorities in order. Which is first, the kingdom of God or me first?
The second point Jesus warns about in this parable is that there is no substitute for obedience for a sound foundation. Acting on the words of Jesus is the only way to stand against any storm. I believe this warning is what James had in mind when he wrote:
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:21-25).
Mere hearing the word is equivalent to lip service. Jesus wants obedience.
It is only when we hear, receive, and obey the word that we are transformed by God. It is through the word of God that we come to know his will for us.
It is only when we hunger for the Word of God that we find satisfaction in the Lord and the craving for worldly things does not overwhelm us. Instead, we find inner rest and peace of mind knowing that the God who feeds the sparrows will take care of our needs [Add “too?].
It is only when we act on the Word of God that our lives find true security. When the seas rumble and the raging water floods around us with bad news, our heart can stand firm knowing that those who trust the Lord will not be put to shame.
Once again, Jesus says: “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. Amen!