Building on sand
Jesus splits the world in two. But He does it by descending right into our midst.
There He is, the son of Mary, an itinerant preacher with no qualifications and no fixed abode. Surrounded by the poor, the meek and the persecuted, He holds forth with His distinctive northern accent. Yet as He concludes His sermon He speaks with insider knowledge about the end of all things. Stunningly, Jesus portrays Himself as the fulcrum of time and eternity, of heaven and hell.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Jesus is the One whom all peoples will petition on the final day. Jesus is the Lord whom the righteous will claim to honour. Jesus is the name in which prophecy is uttered and “wonderful works” are wrought. Jesus rules on the day of days. Jesus will have the last word on judgement. Jesus is the One who must know and be known by the saved. Jesus is the definition of heaven and His absence is the definition of hell.
This Jewish carpenter splits the world. He is not simply some wandering Rabbi discussing timeless precepts. He is the Lord, the Judge, the Centrepiece of all creation. And so His sermon is not about some other truth, like “the kingdom” or “righteousness.” Jesus Himself is the ultimate content of the sermon. The kingdom and righteousness only make sense when we see Christ as the content filling out those terms. Jesus is and always has been the King in whom the kingdom is established. He is the righteousness for whom we hunger and thirst. He is the Fulfiller and Accomplisher of the law that He preaches.
And so, as He concludes His sermon, He makes it clear that everything revolves around Himself. Jesus is the fork in the road dividing all humanity. Depending on our relation to Him we’re either entering by the strait or the wide gate (v13). We’re either travelling the broad or the narrow way (v14). We’re either good trees producing good fruit or corrupt trees bringing forth evil fruit (v17). And now, finally, we are either building our house on the rock or building on sand.
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
Notice that everyone must endure the floods and winds. The wise and the foolish alike must weather the storm. Building on the Rock does not keep off the rain. But through the judgement of the waters, like the family of Noah, we cling on to the righteous one and are saved.
But not the foolish builder. He built on sand. What does this represent? Well it would be tempting to view the sand as transitory, worldly things – money, power, vainglory, etc. And certainly those are foolish foundations for life. Jesus has indeed preached against trusting in Mammon. Yet the immediate context points to a more insidious false foundation. “Building on sand” is like trusting in your preaching, exorcising or healing ministry (v22). The sand doesn’t just represent “worldly” confidence, it represents “religious” confidence too.
Yet however successful our religious CVs may be, they are no substitute for knowing and being known by Jesus. Without a genuine relationship with the Lord in which we do His words then we will fall when the great day arrives. And great will be our fall.
Jesus ends on this calamitous note. The sermon that began with “Blessed are the poor in spirit” finishes with the utter destruction of the foolish. What are we to think? That the grace, gushing so freely in the beginning, has now dried up? In the end is it all down to us and our ability to do His words?
It’s crucial to see what happens straight after the sermon. The very next incident shows how we should respond to this teaching.
“When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:1-3)
If ever there was a man unable to “do the words” of the Lord it’s this leper (see more here). He belongs far outside the kingdom, outside the camp. He should flee from the Judge of the world but he flees towards Him. And Jesus does the unthinkable, He touches the untouchable and cleanses the unclean.
Here is our model and our hope. We naturally choose the wide gate and the broad way. We’re naturally corrupted trees bringing forth evil fruit. We’re naturally fools, forsaking Christ’s words and building our own CVs. Yet there is more grace in Jesus than sin in us; more cleansing in Christ than filth in our hearts. And He is more than willing to give us the righteousness for which we hunger and thirst; indeed to give us Himself. At the end of this sermon Jesus found a filthy sinner and stretched forth His hand – not for condemnation but salvation. That is what He’s like and what His sermon is driving us towards.
If we’ve understood the words of Jesus at all, what should we do?
Our response must not be a steely resolve to do better. Indeed that is the very essence of building on sand! Our first response to this sermon must be to do what the leper did. In brokenness we confess our sin and in confidence we worship Him who “canst make me clean.”
And He does cleanse us and He does fill us with His righteousness and He does make us good trees and He does perform His word in us and through us. So to Him be the glory, for ever and ever, Amen!