Hauling buckets of water and scooping mounds of sand, we worked hard to build a masterpiece. Our sandcastle had towers and bridges–even a moat that we could never keep filled. In all our efforts, however, we failed to notice that the tide edged closer by the minute. Till the one big wave came crashing in, leveling our castle. As the wave pulled back, the beach left no record of our endeavor. The sand had given way to the water’s power, leaving nothing behind but a blank slate.
Sand isn’t very strong on its own. Its tiny particles ebb and flow with the tide’s rise and fall, with each wave’s crash, all of which makes for a great beach, but it’s not so great as a foundation. And that is Jesus’ point in His conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount.
Only Two Options
Americans love options–small, medium, or large. Sweet, unsweet, or half-and-half. Online, in-store, or curbside. But in Jesus’ kingdom there are only two options: His way or the world’s. The narrow gate or wide. True prophets and disciples or false. To illustrate this dichotomous truth, Jesus shares a parable of two men, one wise and one foolish. His point, in the end, is that each of us has only two options about how to live in this world. We’ll either be wise. Or we’ll be foolish. There is no in-between or hidden third way. There certainly aren’t multiple paths that lead to the Kingdom of God. Only one. So we either choose it, or we don’t.
This parable explains that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock” (Matthew 7:24), and that “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” (Matthew 7:26). Two ways of hearing and doing. Two responses. Two results.
On the Sand
One way to respond to the Word we hear is to choose to do nothing with it. I can’t help but think of Judas Iscariot. Here’s a man who walks and talks with Jesus for three years, who hears all the words of Jesus firsthand, but fails to do anything with them. Instead, he clings to his ideas and follows through with his agenda. His choice leads to death–Jesus’ and his own.
James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his letter that hearers of the Word–those who do not do what it says–let God’s truth go in one ear and out the other. By being hearers and not doers, they fail to know God fully (James 1:22-24). He ties together forever this idea of hearing and doing all that Jesus says, yet we resist. Something in us desires a different path.
Jesus addresses this flaw in our nature in Revelation:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”Revelation 3:15-16
Perhaps we avoid being ‘hot’ for Jesus because it takes effort or we think we don’t need Him. But we also don’t want to live ‘cold’ for Him because we know better. We’ve heard His teachings and to a certain degree believe they’re true. So, we try to hover between them–that lukewarm place that Jesus so despises. He says CHOOSE–you’re either for me or against me (Matthew 12:30). In our attempts to avoid making a choice, we actually make one. To remain lukewarm is to choose to build our house on a foundation of sand.
Let’s illustrate this twenty-first century style. There’s a church-goer who calls herself a Jesus follower. She attends worship a time or two a month and joins the weekly Bible study every semester. Most weeks her homework is done, and she enjoys being with her friends–they’re warm and friendly and pray really well. She signs-up to cook meals for the women who have babies or surgeries and volunteers to answer phones at the church when there’s a need. She’s content, happy with her ordered life. Then one day she gets devastating news–the kind that pulls the rug right out from under you. Her life becomes a storm with wind and rain pounding her at every turn. As the storm barrels onward, the foundation she’s stood on washes away, leaving her swimming in the wild waves. As she treads water, gasping for breath, she realizes with a shock that her comfortable life had been void of God. It had been a lot of doing the busyness of life, but there had been no knowing of God, no truth soaked into her bones, no solid rock beneath her feet.
Friends, this sermon Jesus preaches is meant to wake us up to the lukewarm lives we tend to lead. From the outside looking in, many in the church appear the part, but their hearts lack the warmth of Jesus’ sanctifying love and truth and grace. They hear His words but never actually get around to doing them. Their foundation ends up being built on their own strength and smarts, which is a foundation that washes away with the first big wave.
On the Rock
However, the opposite is true, too. Another woman chooses the narrow gate. She attends the same church and Bible study; she even volunteers for meals and in the church office, but her motive is pure–not for her glory but for the good of others. Every word spoken by her preacher soaks her mind with truth, and she lives it out. All the lessons from her time studying with other women are put into practice, allowing her pride to be turned to humility and her fear to be covered by Christ’s love. She is being transformed, and as such, His love flows out of her and onto everyone she meets. As she talks with Jesus throughout each day, the closeness she feels with Him intensifies and grows so that she begins praying with others, hoping they will find Jesus’ saving power, just as she has. The day arrives when her world comes crashing down around her, so she falls to her knees and cries to her Lord for help. She deeply laments all her losses yet calls to Jesus to carry her through the storm. And her foundation remains firm because she’s been building it on Jesus all along. Her faith remains intact, and with Jesus’s help she rides out the storm, beaten and bruised, but not defeated.
The wise way of building a holy life with Jesus is to hear His words and do them–His words and our actions inseparable.
To live in the Kingdom now, we must live close to Jesus in our ordinary lives (Smith, 214). This living life close to Jesus embodies an abiding nature. The second woman in our example learned that putting Jesus’ words into action looks like drawing near to Him, to enter into His presence every day with the sole purpose of being with Him–no agenda, no worrying her prayers, no desire other than sitting at His feet. Yes, ask and seek and knock–but mostly, be.
Jesus describes this way of living close to Him as being grafted like a vine into His branch (John 15). The branch of a grapevine stands sturdy and strong, roots anchored up to twenty feet in the soil. Picturing Jesus as the stalwart branch helps us see our need for Him–He feeds us, sustains us, holds us up when the winds blow, and fills us with life-giving water when life gets dry.
As His vines, we surrender to His strength, allowing His love to flow through us and give us life. We submit to His pruning shears as they cut off the dead parts or even those stems that sap us of energy and life–because He knows what is best for us. Because we abide in Him, we trust Him. Even when the storms hit, we know He remains with us and in us and for us, and that truth carries us through in faith and with hope.
This is the week called Passion because it is so full of suffering, the Latin definition for ‘passion.’ Throughout this Lenten Season, we’ve been faithful to keep our eyes focused on our Savior, but this week is meant to take us deeper. We are to lean into the hard things–the heartache of betrayal and desertion, the pain of floggings, the humiliation of mockery, and the agony of crucifixion.
We can choose to draw closer to Jesus this week. Or not.
We can choose to allow His pain to affect our hearts. Or not.
We can choose to enter into His suffering on our behalf. Or not.
Friends, this is a great week for us to examine the state of our relationship with the One who is the Way, the one and only Way. As we contemplate all He has done for us, we can choose to be hearers and doers of His Word. We can build our lives on the Rock–that Cornerstone the builders rejected–so that we’ll always have firm footing on this journey of life.
Living for the Kingdom of God now is an intentional mindset where we constantly choose to live for and abide in Jesus. But this abiding life requires help, the kind that can only come from the Helper, the Holy Spirit–in whom and through whom we have all we need to build this firm foundation in Christ, including the ability to embrace Him everyday.
Two options. Let’s be wise.
- Did you have any revelations last week as you feasted on Jesus’ call to quit judging others? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Jesus’ truth has been showing me how quickly I can shift from grace to blame, from good-heartedness to hard-hearted words–even if they’re in my mind. Lord Jesus, help us!
- Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Fast what distracts. This week choose one thing in your life that keeps you from spending time in God’s presence – sleeping in, 24/7 news watching, social media scrolling, shopping, or whatever else distracts you from the better business of building a foundation on the rock of Jesus. Notice what happens when this distraction is removed – how do your heart and mind react? How can you continue to keep your focus on Christ?
- Classics, like the hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock,” and modern worship songs, like “Build My Life,” capture the truth of Jesus’ concluding parable of the Sermon on the Mount beautifully. Enjoy them on our Spotify Playlist!
- This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.