A Tale of Two Houses

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 7:24-29

The real test of a life, like the real test of a house, is how well it holds up when the storms hit.

During Jesus’ lifetime, most people thought of him simply as a great teacher. It sometimes happens that we fail to recognize the full significance of a great man’s life while he is still living. Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, was known by very few of his contemporaries, and by them mainly as an organ virtuoso. It was only years after his death that he came to be recognized as the greatest composer of all time. So during Jesus’ lifetime, most people approached him as a teacher. That’s what they called him. “Rabbi,” they said, or “Teacher.” And they thought of him the way Nicodemus did, the man who one evening started a conversation with Jesus by saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God. . . .”

Jesus, of course, was, and is, much more than that. He was, and is, the Son of God, God himself come in human flesh. He was, and is, the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who laid down his life as an offering for sin. He was, and is, the Lord of all creatures who rose triumphant from the dead and is enthroned now in glory above all and over all. But he also was, and is, a teacher, a great teacher who did come from God.

In one respect, Jesus’ teaching was unique. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of his followers as they sat around him on a Galilean hillside. He had been teaching them about personal morality, that is, about right and wrong, about how to live a good life, how to relate to God, how to treat other people. Matthew says that when Jesus finished his sermon, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (v. 29). Most teachers appeal to authority to back up the truth of what they say. Jesus simply exercised it. Most teachers quote chapter and verse or cite the wisdom of others. Jesus said simply, “I tell you this.”

But he was like all other good teachers in another respect. Jesus ended his lesson with a call to action. Jesus followed up all the instruction with application. The best kind of teaching is not merely an attempt to impart new information to people. It must be aimed at more than just cramming the head with knowledge. The goal of all good teaching is not simply to make us know the facts, or even understand the truth, but to move us to do the truth, to put it into practice, to be obedient to it. And so Jesus concluded his sermon with a story, a story aimed not at our minds but our wills, and intended to move us to obedience.

TWO HOUSES

This is the story Jesus told:

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.

I think I first heard and learned that story as a Sunday School song when I was a little boy. But even a child can understand what it means.

This is a parable, which means that Jesus is speaking metaphorically or symbolically, something he loved to do. The two houses in the story represent two different lives, two different ways of living.

But how are they different? We might first observe how they are not different. They’re not different in their outward appearance. In Jesus’ culture, almost all the houses looked alike. They weren’t large or fancy, and they were all built more or less on the same plan. So were the two houses in Jesus’ story. Undoubtedly, the walls and windows and doors and roofs of these houses were similar. One life is pretty much like the other, at least outwardly. People grow up, go to school; they learn to work, they have families. They laugh and cry. They live and die. The two houses are similar in appearance. Nor was there a difference in their surroundings or environment. They were built along the same terrain. The same storms struck both houses. The same conditions applied to them. The same forces were at work upon them.

No, the difference between the two houses was in their foundations. That’s what separates these two lives; not the details of the lives or the uniqueness of what happens in them, but where they are built. One house was built on the rock and the other on sand. Every life is based on some foundation. The question is: What sort of foundation? That’s a question you need to answer for yourself. Other people may not always be able to tell, but you know what you’re building your life on.

TWO BUILDERS

Jesus also tells us something about the two people who built these two different houses. The first builder, the one who erected his house on a rock foundation, Jesus called a wise man. The adjective he uses means to be sensible, thoughtful, prudent. The essence of wisdom is to be able to think ahead, to think things through, to foresee the consequences of your present actions and to make your decisions accordingly. But the other builder Jesus calls a fool, literally, a “moron.” Being a fool has little to do with your intelligence or level of education. A fool is someone who cannot or will not take the trouble to think about what they’re doing. A fool doesn’t ever think about the future or take care about the consequences of his actions.

That is exactly the problem with the foolish builder in Jesus’ story. It’s not so much that he chose a bad foundation, but that he chose no foundation at all. He just didn’t think about where he was building his house. He built it on the easiest place. Never mind if that place was a dry stream-bed where there would be flashfloods when the storms came. All the fool cared about was how the house looked and how comfortable it was. He only wanted quick and easy results. Get it up in a hurry and then enjoy it. He never thought about what the future would bring.

Just to make sure we understand, Jesus explains his point. These two builders are two different kinds of hearers. Remember Jesus’ audience: they have all just heard his teaching; they have all been part of the congregation for the great Sermon on the Mount. (So have we, by reading it.) But a sharp line will divide Jesus’ hearers into two different categories. The wise person is the one “who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice.” The fool is one “who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice“ (vv. 24, 26). There is the difference. What divides people into the wise and the foolish is not whether or not they hear Jesus’ teaching, but whether, having heard it, they obey it.

The test of authenticity for any disciple of Jesus is not profession but practice. It’s not how much we claim we love him, not how loudly we sing the songs, not how powerful and polished our testimony is, not whether we can teach Sunday school or preach great sermons or perform spectacular miracles. No, the test is much simpler. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them.”

Can you recall what some of those words are? Jesus talked about being poor in spirit and merciful and pure in heart, about loving and obeying the Bible, about ridding ourselves of things like anger and lust and lying, about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek, about non-retaliation for injuries and insults, about serving God humbly and secretly just for his own sake, about living simply for heaven’s values rather than earthly reward, about not being consumed by worry and anxiety, about treating others the way we’d like them to treat us. Those are some of the words Jesus says we must do if we want to be wise.

TWO ENDS

So the two houses in Jesus’ story are two different lives. And the two different lives have two different foundations. And the two foundations represent two different kinds of people. And the two different people have two different ends. In the one case, “The rain came down, and streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (v. 25). And in the other, “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (v. 27). Notice the same storms strike both houses. Building your life on the rock of obedient faith in Christ does not mean you will escape the storm; it means you will survive it.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer called his book on the Sermon on the Mount, The Cost of Discipleship. Jesus reminds us here at the very end of his sermon that there is an even higher cost for non-discipleship. If you choose not to be a follower of Jesus, if you listen to his words and hear the truth about him, but then turn away without doing anything about it, then you are building your life on a foundation of sand. Sooner or later, you may be certain, the test will come. Adversity will strike. And when it does, your life is going to come crashing down and you will be lost!

Are you building your life on sand? When the storm hits it’s too late to worry about your foundation. In fact, it’s already too late when the house is all finished. Now is the time you must ask yourself: “What am I building my life on?” You know the answer to that. You know if you’re being foolish or wise. You know if you’re only a hearer of the word or if you are one who is putting it into practice. Does that mean you are perfect and always obey Jesus’ teaching completely? Of course not. But it does mean that you’re trying, that your greatest desire is to be what Jesus is and to do what he says. That’s the way to build your life upon the rock – the rock which is Christ himself.

If you’re not doing that, then some day your life is going to collapse on your head. It will certainly happen on the last day, the day of judgment. But it will probably happen even sooner, maybe when you lose your job, or your money, or your family, or your health. That is when you will look around and realize that you have really been living for nothing. And nothing is exactly what you’ve got. But if you can see that now, why not admit it to God? Why not turn to Christ, come to him without delay, and build your life on him?

There’s a wonderful prayer which was composed almost fifty years ago for a great church meeting. It makes an appropriate conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount as well.

Almighty God, give us grace to be not only hearers, but doers of your holy word; not only to admire, but to obey your teaching; not only to profess, but to practice your religion; not only to love, but to live your gospel. So grant that what we learn of your glory we may receive into our hearts, and show forth in our lives: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Prayer composed for the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops of 1948)