“The wise man built his house upon the rock.” By “rock,” Jesus meant his teachings. Unfortunately, it is very possible to hear the teachings of Jesus but not to put them into practice. When we only hear—and don’t obey—Jesus’ teachings, we find ourselves cycling through the same bad decisions and experiencing spiritual stagnancy for years. And we find our churches producing church attenders, but not necessarily disciples of Jesus. In the parable of the two foundations, Jesus explains the difference between just hearing his teachings and actually building our lives on them.
“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.” (Matthew 7:24-27, NIV)
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Here are some observations about this parable:
- The man who built his house on the rock and the man who built his house on the sand both heard the words of Jesus. Just hearing the teachings of Jesus (e.g., just coming to church and listening to the words of Jesus) is a start, but it’s certainly not the point.
- Both men get hit with pounding rain, rising streams, and hurricane-like winds. Both lives get pummeled by stuff. That’s how life goes for everybody. But in the end, only the one who listened to Jesus’ teachings and obeyed them is left standing.
- In the parallel parable in Luke 6:46-49, it’s not about location (rock versus sand) as much as whether somebody digs down deep enough to hit a rock foundation or not. Both are interested in Jesus, but only one of them digs the foundation deep enough to where he hits rock.
- Jesus is placing an equals sign between living a life that doesn’t get destroyed and following his teachings. That’s a ton of authority he is claiming!
Feeling Rightly About Jesus’ Teachings
When we hear Jesus’ teachings, we should feel similarly to the crowds after listening to the Sermon on the Mount:
“…the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority…” (Matthew 7:28-29, NIV)
We should feel amazed by hearing the teachings of Jesus. Amazed at what? We should feel amazed at Jesus’ authoritativeness. The crowd would have heard Jesus’ sermon and remarked, “Just who does he think he is?” And the answer, of course, is that he thinks he is God. That’s actually one of the main reasons he’s going to be crucified. He knows who he is. And if we Christians are who we say we are, we will believe him and follow his teachings.
“The crowd would have heard Jesus’ sermon and remarked, ‘Just who does he think he is?'”
So, sand or rock? A life that crumbles or a life that stands? A church that produces church attenders, or serious disciples of Jesus? As the world in so many ways seems to be crumbling around us, we need to seriously get back to following Jesus and discipling people in how to follow Jesus.
Here are three questions which will help us figure out how to really make Jesus’ life and teachings the foundation for how we live and how we disciple people:
- What is the world looking for?
- What does the world get instead?
- What do we need to do about it?
Question #1 – What is the world looking for?
In my book Mirage, I tell the following story:
“When I was in junior high, I was told to write a descriptive essay with lots of colorful descriptions. I giggled wickedly as I planned the story. It would read like a happy children’s story but end with a dark twist. I decided to write about Tommy and Billy jumping in their pile of autumn leaves. ‘Yay!’ ‘Hooray!’ Lucky, not wanting to be left out of the reverie, bounded through the doggy door and into the fun, not noticing the snake that had slithered into the pile. ‘Bark!’ Lucky yelped. Dad ran out, bent down to the dog, and said, ‘I’m sorry, boys. The dog is dead.’ The end.”
What is the world looking for? Answer: The world is looking for something in life that doesn’t end like that pathetic story. Just one thing.
Yet we get scammed by life at every turn. You buy a lot of stuff that you think will make you truly happy, but stuff rots. You do a lot of fun things that you think will make you truly happy, yet lasting happiness is always around the next corner. You spend your time and money chasing health and beauty? But in the end, as a wise person said rather depressingly, you end up as expensive worm food. You trust in political leaders? Yet politicians disappoint us every day. You love people? Yet people die. Can you construct one of the great civilizations? Yet they all crumble. Everything ends with the dog dead.
What is the world looking for? It’s looking for something—anything, even one thing—it can truly trust.
“The world is looking for something—anything, even one thing—it can truly trust.”
Question #2 – What does the world get instead?
John Stott, a Bible scholar now in heaven, wrote a commentary called Sermon on the Mount, in which he talked about what the world is looking for—and what the world gets instead. He wrote of the hunger of our culture for something real: true peace, hope, and love. They truly crave these things, and our answer to the world is simple: Go to church! Check out the church! You’ll find what you’re looking for there! Yet, when they do turn to the church, what actually happens? What do they get instead?
Here’s what John Stott says: “The first place to which they should be able to turn is the one place which they normally ignore, namely the church. For too often what they see in the church is not…a new society which embodies their ideals [peace, love, hope] but another version of the old society which they have renounced, not life but death” (John Stott, Sermon on the Mount).
Stott is saying that people turn to the church to find what they’re longing for, but it too often turns out to be more of the same disappointment. Stott continues, “No comment could be more hurtful to the Christian than the words, ‘But you are not different from anybody else’” (John Stott, Sermon on the Mount).
“People turn to the church to find what they’re longing for, but it too often turns out to be more of the same disappointment.”
So, what does the world get instead from us?
What the world often gets from us instead is illustrated by the way some people play the piano. Reading music starts with things like “every good boy does fine” (an acronym that helps us memorize the lines on the treble clef). The end result of learning the notes (“let’s see…every good boy…oh, that’s a B”) is that, eventually, you shouldn’t have to count up. Eventually, knowing the notes should come naturally. You should eventually be able to read the music without even having to think about it.
However, there are some people who skipped the stage of learning these things (e.g., learning how to read sheet music) and went on to play the piano by ear. They play what comes naturally but bypassed the more laborious—and fruitful—pathway of actually learning to read music. Some people can skip the hard work of learning how to read music and still sound pretty good by playing by ear. Yet they’re still probably going to be limited in what they can actually play.
“Some people can skip the hard work of learning how to read music and still sound pretty good by playing by ear. Yet they’re still probably going to be limited in what they can actually play.”
When it comes to living the Christian life, it’s easy to try to do what comes naturally. To play by “ear.” Yet the Bible includes plenty of habits for us to practice if we really want to learn the real thing. It’s got plenty of “every good boy does fine” types of tools. It’s got “scales.” Lots of new habits to practice and old habits to unlearn. Here are some examples of the Bible teaching us how to live out the real thing:
- Romans 12:17 – Learn forgiveness: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…”
- Colossians 3:17 – Learn thankfulness: “…giving thanks to God the Father…”
- Ephesians 4:25 – Learn honesty: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”
These aren’t easy. It takes time to practice these. It takes rethinking, relearning, retraining. Breaking old habits, starting good habits. “Every good boy does fine.”
That’s the kind of church which would tell the world that we have what they’re looking for. A church that forgives each other. A church that blesses those who persecute us. A church that speaks truth in love even when it makes us unpopular. A church that is kind to everybody without exception. These sorts of things wouldn’t necessarily make the culture like us, but if we really trained in these areas, we would become that place of healing and restoration. A home for prodigals. A hospital for the hurting. A place where truth is lived out. The culture would at least get the hunch that what they’re missing is what we’ve got.
The wise man built his house on the rock: “It takes time to practice these. It takes rethinking, relearning, retraining.”
Instead, what the world often sees instead is a church that skips the training to become like Jesus—and jumps to doing whatever comes naturally. Doing what comes naturally might sound good to us, but compared to what it could be? Compared to what is written? Compared to what this world is really looking for? It’s extraordinarily limited.
Question #3 – What do we need to do about it?
Let’s review: What is the world looking for? Something, anything they can truly trust. What does the world get instead? Instead of really training to learn the way of Jesus, many Christians just do whatever comes naturally as long as it sounds okay to them.
So, what do we need to do about this problem? We’ve got to learn to live like Jesus.
Yet, even though many of us have heard sermon after sermon telling us how to live like Jesus, it’s no guarantee that we will actually live like Jesus. Many of us have known the two greatest commandments, the “golden rule,” the Beatitudes, etc. for a long time, but just knowing these truths doesn’t automatically translate into living like Jesus. Our problem might have everything to do with who we think is the smartest person in the world.
“Our problem might have everything to do with who we think is the smartest person in the world.”
Who are the smartest, most intelligent people you’ve ever heard of? Who comes to mind? Einstein? Edison? Aristotle? Newton? Hawking? And that’s our problem. You see, we all think that Jesus is really good—amazing morals, compassion, love. But we don’t typically put Jesus in the category (let alone at the top) of people who are incredibly smart. So, we end up reading what Jesus said about how to live and we say to ourselves, “Nice thoughts. Impressive morals. But I don’t think that’s how we’re really supposed to live.”
The philosopher Dallas Willard, in his book on the Sermon on the Mount called The Divine Conspiracy, writes, “And can we seriously imagine that Jesus could be Lord if he were not smart? If he were divine, would he be dumb? Or uninformed? Once you stop to think about it, how could he be what we take him to be in all other respects and not be the best-informed and most intelligent person of all, the smartest person who ever lived?” (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy).
Often, we hear Jesus’ teachings on how to live, and we really do think to ourselves that we know better how to live our lives. And that’s our problem. We have got to truly start making Jesus’ life and teachings the foundation for how we live and how we disciple people.
The wise man built his house on the rock: “We have got to truly start making Jesus’ life and teachings the foundation for how we live and how we disciple people.”
- Matthew 5:27-28 – Jesus knows better than we do just how devastating adultery is, as well as the connection between lust and adultery: “…Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
- Matthew 5:43-44 – Jesus knows better than we do just how ugly favoritism is: “…You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
- Matthew 6:1 – Jesus knows better than we do just how easy it is for religious people to get prideful: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
- Matthew 6:19-20 – Jesus knows better than we do how just getting more and more stuff leaves you empty: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”
- Matthew 6:15 – Jesus knows better than we do just how closed-hearted an unforgiving heart is, so even the love of God is kept out: “If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
- Matthew 6:27 – Jesus knows better than we do just how ridiculous worry is: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Jesus knows better than we do just how ridiculous worry is: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
- Matthew 6:33 – Jesus knows better than we do just how complete our lives would be if we would just focus on him: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
- Matthew 7:1-2 – Jesus knows better than we do just how destructive it is to be judgmental: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…”
- Matthew 7:13 – Jesus knows better than we do just how easy it is to walk the path of destruction: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”
Jesus knows. Jesus knows better than we do. And that’s just a sampling of the treasures offered to us when we desire to learn how to truly live. We’ve got treasures in the teachings of Jesus.
The wise man built his house on the rock: “We’ve got treasures in the teachings of Jesus.”
Jesus never said, “Make converts.” He said, “Make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20). And he said to teach those disciples everything he said. A disciple means a student. So, Jesus gives us an invitation to train under him. To learn how to live from Jesus. To become Jesus’ apprentice, Jesus’ student, Jesus’ lifelong learner in how to live. We are to be disciples who make disciples of Jesus, using his life and teachings as our curriculum.
We all trust Jesus for our afterlife. It’s time to trust Jesus for this life. After all, he knows. He knows how best to live our lives. And it’s what this world desperately needs. So—sand or rock?