Building on the Rock! Back to all sermons

Date: January 3, 2014

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Series: Book of Matthew

Category: Gospel of Matthew

Scripture: Matthew 7:24–7:29

Tags: discipleship, New Year, Happiness

Synopsis: Building on the Rock! In this first sermon of the New Year, we look at the conclusion to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-27. And we find it makes a great place to start 2014 with the challenge to build our lives on the rock instead of on sand. In this sermon, Pastor Cam also contrast a “learning and growing” model of discipleship with a “hearing and doing model”. How are they different? Which one are we following at ECC? And how does the story of the two men and their houses illustrate the difference?

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We are arriving today at the conclusion to Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus’ conclusion is actually a very good place to start off this New Year.

At first it may seem that I am contradicting what I said in the message a couple weeks ago, when I stated that I believe that the conclusion to Jesus’ sermon takes up all of Matthew 7, as Jesus reaches back into the truths of chapters 5 and 6 and applies them very specifically to his audience. Well, while all of chapter 7 is Jesus’ conclusion, Matthew 7:24-27 is the conclusion to the conclusion!

You’ve probably all heard the old joke: What does it mean when a preacher says “finally”? The answer is, it doesn’t mean anything!

When I was in seminary, my preaching professors used to stress to us the importance of “preaching for a verdict.” Good preaching is never just about passing on information, although good preaching does give information. Good preaching is never just about education, although good preaching should educate. Good preaching calls for a verdict. It challenges the audience with the question: What will you do with what you have just heard?

Jesus was a great preacher, and as a great preacher, he preached for a verdict. Listen to his closing words:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

And so Jesus calls for the verdict in the life of those who heard his sermon. He twice refers to “these words of mine.” What will we do with what we have heard? As I thought back over the teachings of Jesus in this sermon, it seems to me that there are 3 areas in which these words of Jesus demand a verdict.

1. What the sermon tells us about Jesus himself.

There are many people who say that they admire Jesus as a great moral teacher. When they do so, the Sermon on the Mount is usually the text they have in mind. Often they might add something to the effect that they like this sermon because it is not theological. It simply tells us how to live. I can’t help but wonder if the people who say such things have really taken the time to read Jesus’ words carefully.

It is interesting to note how the crowds responded to Jesus’ teaching. Look at verses 28-29:

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings,the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

What do you think they saw or heard that led them to such an observation? I think they probably saw a couple differing things. First, and most obvious, was simply the way that he taught. He taught with confidence and a sense of certainty in the truth of his words. This was in contrast to the manner of the scribes who always felt that they needed to quote another rabbi who quoted an earlier rabbi who quoted an earlier rabbi.

But that very confidence leads me to another observation that is possibly more subtle. At various points in the sermon, Jesus has made some very radical claims about himself – but he does it in an indirect way.

For example, if you look back at Matthew 5:17, Jesus says there, “I have come…not to abolish but to fulfill…the Law and the Prophets.” Now the claim to fulfilling the Law and the Prophets is dramatic enough, but consider the language itself. “I have come…” These are strange words when you think about it. Not, “I was born.” “I have come.” The implication is that he was somewhere else before and now he “has come.” I think this is a powerful, if indirect reference to the truth of the incarnation that we have just been celebrating at Christmas.

There is another powerful, if subtle implication in the way Jesus’ taught. Throughout the sermon, Jesus used the phraseology: “You have heard…but I say unto you.” With his language, Jesus takes upon himself the divine right to interpret and proclaim the true intent of God’s Word. He even departs from the normal prophetic formula. The prophets would preface their powerful preaching with the words; “Thus says the Lord…” Instead, Jesus simply said: “But I say unto you…”

But there is one more, even more dramatic assumption of authority in this sermon. We often overlook it. It is found in Matthew 7:22-23: On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

Let’s recreate the scene. A hillside above the Sea of Galilee, a large gathering of simple, mostly rural people from everyday walks of life. And in front of them stands a simply clothed, country preacher who grew up just over the hill in a little village called Nazareth. And this is what he says to his audience: “On that day…” What day is he referring to? He is referring to the Judgment Day at the end of time. “On that day…many will say to ME!” Why will they be speaking to Jesus? Because Jesus will be the Judge! He will be the one, seated to judge the world. They will say to ME! And I will say to them, “Depart from ME!”

Jesus doesn’t make a big thing out of this claim. He simply assumes it. In fact we often read right over it without really registering what Jesus is saying. Think about it. How would your respond today if a simple, country preacher stood up here and said: “Now, when you all stand before me at the end of time…”?

Those who would reduce Jesus to simply a great teacher or even a prophet haven’t been paying attention. Jesus has not left that option open to us. By Jesus’ own claims and assumptions, we must either acknowledge his deity, or reject him as a maniac or an imposter.

It is instructive to note that the Apostle Paul makes this same point about Jesus when he preached in Athens in the Areopagus. He concludes his sermon there with these words: “Because (God) has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Jesus’ own assumptions and claims about his identity will not allow us to remain neutral. He demands a verdict. Before we can properly respond to the teaching, we must respond to the Teacher. What is your verdict? Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who will one day judge the world?

The second area that demands a verdict is…

2. What the sermon tells us about ourselves.

I believe that one of the primary purposes for this sermon is to help us see ourselves as God sees us. What happens when you or I take these words of Jesus and try to apply them to ourselves? What will we do with Jesus’ words when he says: Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven?

And then he goes on to define that greater righteousness as a righteousness of the heart; a righteousness that is internal as well as external and uses God’s commands against murder and adultery to look deep into our hearts to find the anger, hatred and lust that are hidden there?

This is the righteous life that God requires, if we desire to stand before him. If we take Jesus’ words at face value and we make a serious attempt to live by them, what will we discover?

I think Paul’s words summarize it pretty well: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Or the words of Isaiah: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Or the words of the Psalmist: “There is none righteous, no not one.” Or the words of Jeremiah: “All our righteousness is like filthy rags.”

At point after point in Jesus’ sermon we are faced with the fact that his words do not represent good news. Any serious attempt to understand and apply Jesus’ teaching will expose the sins and selfishness in our hearts. Anyone who dares to stand and say, “I am a good person,” is not using Jesus’ words in this sermon as a standard of measurement.

So what shall we do with Jesus’ teaching? I think we are led to an inescapable verdict. We are all sinners. And with this verdict, we are back to where Jesus started his sermon:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit (those who recognize their own spiritual bankruptcy), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn (in broken-hearted repentance for their sin) for they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (knowing they fall short, but desperately desiring to meet God’s righteous standard) for they will be filled."

We are really back to John the Baptist’s message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” You have to get down to get in.

Entry into the kingdom of heaven begins by acknowledging Jesus as the king and the coming Judge, and then repenting of our own unrighteousness and our inability to meet the righteous standards of the king and his kingdom.

At this point, I think we need a little help from the Apostle Paul. Let’s start in Romans 3:19-20:

"Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."

I believe this has direct application to Jesus’ words in the Sermon. Jesus has taken the words of the law and simply applied them to our motives as well as our actions, and our thoughts as well as our deeds, and in the process, shows us how far short we fall. “By works of the law, no human being will be justified in God’s sight.” “Through the law (and Jesus explanation and application of that law) comes knowledge of sin.”

So what hope is there? Where is the good news of the Gospel? It is found in the words that follow in Romans 3:21-24:

"But now the righteousness of Godhas been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…"

Through the awareness of our sins, we cry out for the mercy of God and put our faith in the redemption that is provided in Christ Jesus. I believe this is the narrow gate that Jesus talked about in Matthew 7:13-14.

The Sermon on the Mount describes the righteous life that God requires if we would be saved by our own merit. And by showing us how far short we fall, in turn Jesus’ words drive us to the cross, for the righteousness of God apart from the law, the righteousness of God which we can attain through faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe there is yet one more area that demands a verdict and a response.

3. What the sermon tells us about the path to real life-fulfillment and true happiness.

Jesus’ words in this sermon are intended to bring us to the cross for salvation and thus to prepare us for life beyond the grave. But I believe they are also intended to show us how to experience life in the kingdom of heaven now while we are on earth. Yes, this sermon describes the righteous life that God requires if we would be saved by our works. But it also describes the righteous life that Jesus desires in his followers and the members of his kingdom. This is how he desires us as his followers to live. And what is more, Jesus tells us that this kind of living, which is possible only by faith, is also the path to real life-fulfillment and true happiness.

Do you remember how the sermon started? Blessed are…Do you remember the alternative translations of this word? Happy…Most favored…Lucky…Truly happy…

I think this is illustrated in Jesus’ closing story of the two men and the storms of life. Who is the happy man in the story? Who is the favored one? The lucky one? The truly happy one? It is the wise man; the one who built his house on the rock.

As Jesus concluded his sermon he asked his audience: “What will you do with my words?” I remember the president of my seminary warning us against the danger of what he called, “wallowing in unlived truth.” For over 2 months and 8 sermons we have pondered the great truths of what has been called Jesus’ greatest sermon. And in this closing paragraph, with a simple story, Jesus tells us clearly: If all you’ve done is listen, it has all been for nothing.

A couple years ago, I attended a pastors’ conference. The speaker, a man by the name of Bob Roberts, talked to us about discipleship. He drew a sharp contrast between two models of discipleship. The first one he called the “Learn and Grow Model.” This is the model that tries to turn everyone into a Bible student. We have Bible studies and classes and seminars and workshops and the focus is always on the transmitting of knowledge. The assumption is that knowledge will produce spiritual growth and mature disciples of Christ. But according to Jesus’ words in front of us this morning, that’s not necessarily true. Learning alone is not enough. Hearing is not enough. Both of the men in the story heard the words of Jesus. The wise man heard them and did them. The foolish man heard the same words, but he did not do them. They both “learned”. But they didn’t both “grow” did they? In contrast to the “Learn and Grow Model”, the speaker borrowed the very words of Jesus and called us to pursue a “Hearing and Doing Model” for discipleship. This is the only model that will produce true disciples of Jesus.

The principles and truths of life that Jesus has described in these chapters mark the path to real life-fulfillment and true happiness. There is a parallel passage in the Book of James. James was Jesus’ half-brother. I can’t help but believe that James was in the audience when Jesus preached on the hillside that day. I once did a paper in seminary on the many common teachings between the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle of James. I discovered that out of 108 verses in James, 50 of them (almost half) could be shown to have very close parallels in Jesus’ teaching in this sermon. Listen to this section from James 1:22-25, as a parallel to Jesus’ closing words of the sermon:

"But bedoers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts,he will be blessed in his doing."

By the way, the word “blessed” in that final sentence is the same word Jesus used in the beatitudes. That’s also why I believe this conclusion to Jesus’ sermon makes a great sermon to start the New Year.

What do we say at this time of year? “Happy New Year!” What do we mean by that? We mean blessed, prosperous, a year of true fulfillment and real happiness. That is what we wish for each other. That is what we wish for ourselves.

But how shall we experience such happiness, such blessedness? Jesus’ sermon is a great place to start. But we won’t experience the blessedness by just hearing or learning. The blessedness comes when we do the words of Jesus.

I can’t think of a better way to conclude this message than with Jesus’ own words. As we reflect on the year ahead and the choices we will make and the decisions we will face and what kind of year we want it to be, listen once again to the words of Jesus:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Verse 29 tells us that Jesus’ hearers were impressed that he taught “as one who had authority.” From what we have read and studied in this sermon, what do you think led them to this observation?
  2. How would you use Jesus’ words in this sermon (Matthew 5-7) to address/refute someone who tried to describe Jesus as simply a great moral teacher?
  3. Read Romans 7:7-12. By substituting “Jesus’ sermon” for the law, what do we learn about ourselves? How might we use Jesus’ sermon in witnessing to someone who described themselves as “a good person”?
  4. If we conclude that one of the purposes of Jesus’ sermon is to reveal our sinfulness, are we then justified in simply dismissing it as an impossible standard? Why or why not?
  5. Discuss the difference between a “learn and grow” model of discipleship and a “hear and do” model? What can you do in your study group to move toward the “hearing and doing” model?