“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 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. 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. 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 when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. – Matthew 7:24-29 ESV
For most of us, when we read these verses, we automatically think of Jesus’ mention of “the rock” as being a reference to Himself. He is the rock. And we get that idea from the Scriptures. Paul would later refer to Jesus as being the foundation he laid and upon which others were to build.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 ESV
Peter would quote from the book of Isaiah and the Psalms, describing Jesus as the stone:
For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” – 1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV
So, it would only be natural to assume that Jesus is referring to Himself as the rock. But it is important to look closely at what He says. He prefaces these closing lines of His sermon with the statement: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” His emphasis is on His words or His teaching. All throughout His sermon, Jesus has been giving commands regarding the lifestyle or behavior of those who are approved by God. They are to be salt and light. They are to pursue reconciliation with all men, not anger and hatred. They are to love and not lust. They are to remain faithful in their earthly commitments, most especially marriage. They are to be a people of their word. They are to live lives of willing sacrifice, rather than seeking revenge and retaliation. They are to love and pray for their enemies. Their acts of righteousness are to flow from the heart and are not to be done for recognition or reward, including the praise of men. They are to see their eternal reward as their greatest treasure, not the temporal things of this earth. Their lives should be marked by a calm and unwavering trust in God, knowing that He will provide for all their needs. They are to regularly examine their own lives, recognizing and repenting of their sinfulness before God.
Over and over again, Jesus has given them clear indications of how an individual approved by God should live their life. And now, He is telling them that those who hear these words and obeys them will be seen as wise. They will be the ones whose lives are marked by a solid foundation. Obedience to the teachings of Jesus has always been a necessary part of the life of the believer. Obedience does not save us, but it marks the life of those who truly are saved. Not long before Jesus was to be betrayed and crucified, He told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). And then He told them how they were going to pull that off. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV). The Holy Spirit was going to be the key to them obeying the words and teachings of Jesus. But they were still expected to obey. And just to make sure that they didn’t forget anything He had taught them, Jesus let them know that the Holy Spirit would give them perfect memories.
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:25-26 ESV
One of the things we so easily lose sight of is Jesus’ statement to His disciples, found in the Great Commission.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV
The disciples were to teach all that Jesus had commanded. His words were to be obeyed. And He was not just speaking of His claim to be the Messiah and His offer of salvation through faith in Him alone. Again, obedience to the words of Jesus do not save us, but it is to be the natural outflow of one who is saved. Repeatedly in Scripture, we are given the admonition to obey the commands of Jesus.
“When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” – John 15:10 NLT
The apostle John puts the non-optional nature of obedience to Jesus’ commands in very stark terms.
He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.
And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:2-6 NLT
So, Jesus says that whoever hears the words He has been teaching and does them, will find their life built on a solid, reliable foundation. Of course, as John makes clear in the passage above, the very first thing we must obey is God’s command to obey in the reality of His Son as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He makes this point even more clear a bit later on in the same letter.
…we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.
And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us. – 1 John 3:21-24 NLT
Our ability to obey the commands of Jesus begins with our obedience to the command of God to trust in His Son as our Savior. When we place our faith in Him, we receive the Spirit of God and the capacity to love God and to love others, which are the foundational truths behind all that Jesus has said in His sermon. Our faith in Christ is to be transformative. It is to change the way we think and behave. It is to have a revolutionary effect on the way we live our lives in this world. But for far too many today, obedience seems to be optional. They place their faith in Christ, and then continue to live as if nothing has happened. They give little or no evidence of the new nature they are supposed to have. Their lives show no signs of the Spirit’s presence within them. But that is not what Jesus expected. And that is not the outcome His sacrificial death on the cross was meant to provide. If we truly love Him, we will keep His commandments. We will be radically different in the way we conduct our lives. We will be salt and light. We will be agents of reconciliation, calling a lost and dying world back to God. We will love and not lust. We will give of ourselves selflessly, rather than always trying to selfishly focus our lives on getting. We will forgive, show mercy, turn the other cheek, worry less, rejoice more, pray intensely, trust God completely, and share the good news of the gospel regularly.
Jesus tells us that those who build their lives on His words, will find their lives marked by stability and resilience. They will have a firm foundation that can withstand the storms of this life and will survive the future judgment to come. There were those in the crowd that day who would hear Jesus’ words and ignore them. Many of them would hear of His death and resurrection and refuse to believe it. After His crucifixion, the word of His miraculous resurrection and ascension would spread, and the offer of salvation would be heard throughout all Judea, but most would refuse to accept it. And their lives would be like a house built on sand, unstable and insecure, completely susceptible to the storms of life and unavoidably destined for a great fall.
When Jesus finished His sermon, the crowds were amazed. They were astonished at His teachings. They had never heard anything like this before. He taught with authority. Over and over again in His message, Jesus had said, “But I say….” He referred to the Old Testament Scriptures, but then added His own words. He did not refer to the teachings of the patriarchs or refer to other rabbinic scholars. He spoke as if His words were on a par with the Word of God itself, because they were. He was the Son of God speaking on behalf of God the Father. He was the Word incarnate. John describes Him as such.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV
He is the Word, and we are to obey Him, not just believe in Him. Those who are approved by God because they place their faith in the Son of God will find themselves capable of living in obedience to everything Jesus said in His sermon. And they will discover the rock-solid security of a life founded on the sure foundation of Christ’s words.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.