Building on a Firm Foundation

Matthew 7:24-29

May 31, 2009 | Brian Bill

In 1174 the Italian architect Bonnano Pisano began work on what would become his most famous project: A separately standing eight-story bell tower in the city of Pisa.  There was just one “little” problem: builders quickly discovered that the soil was much softer than they had anticipated, and the foundation was far too shallow to adequately hold the structure!  Before long it began to tilt…and it continued to tilt…until finally the architect and the builders realized that nothing could be done to make the Leaning Tower of Pisa straight again.  

It took 176 years to build the Tower of Pisa and during that time many things were done to try and compensate for the “tilt.” The foundation was shored up; the upper levels were even built at an angle to try to make the top of the tower look straight.  Nothing worked.  The tower has stood for over 800 years, but it leans 18 feet away from where it should be.  One day, experts say, it will fall…all because it wasn’t built on the right foundation.

The builders were in such a hurry to go up that they didn’t take the time to go down.  The façade looked alright but because the foundation was not secure, the tower still totters today.  I’ve been told that the depth of a foundation depends on the quality of the soil but most engineers will tell you that no matter how long it takes to get there, the best foundations go right down to the bedrock.  Did you know that the foundation for the Sears Tower is 100 feet into the ground?

If you want your life to last, then listen to Jesus and live what He says

As we come to the end of the most famous sermon ever preached, Jesus tells us that in order to have a life that lasts, our foundation must be anchored to the solid rock.  We could say it like this: If you want your life to last, then listen to Jesus and live what He says.  It’s not enough to just hear what He says; we must heed what He says.  We must move from preaching to practicing what has been preached.

Before we jump into our text, I want us to stop and reflect on the very first word in Matthew 7:24: “Therefore…”  This word serves as a connection to all that comes before as well as a conclusion.  The Sermon on the Mount begins with blessings for those who have beatitude attitudes and concludes with a clarion call to commitment.

This is a good time for us to review what we’ve learned in this series called, “Finding Hope in Hard Times.” 

  • How to Handle Conflict: Being reconciled is more important than being religious.
  • Learning How to Pray: We should pray for God’s glory and for our good.
  • Overcoming Anxiety: When we fret with anxiety, we’re to focus on the Almighty.
  • Helping Those in Need: Secret service results in rewards.
  • Making Your Money Last: Whatever we value the most controls the course of our life.
  • Taking the Narrow Road: The gate you take determines your fate, therefore keep it straight before it’s too late!

Instead of closing His sermon with a poem, Jesus wraps everything up with a parable.  Next Sunday we’ll kick off our summer sermon series called, “Practical Parables” as we look at how Jesus used simple stories to communicate great truths.  Those listening to this sermon on the side of the mountain only had to look around to know that the land was filled with hills and valleys and was subject to sudden and violent rains.  The dry streams would quickly overflow and everything in water’s way would be swept away.  They also knew that the ground was a mixture of sandstone and limestone.  

Listen to the story Jesus tells as He uses four very common images – two men, two houses, two foundations and one big storm.  Please turn to Matthew 7:24-27: “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.” 

This parable is pretty popular but I want to give you a pop quiz to see how well you were listening just now.  Simply answer “true” or “false.”

  1. The storm only hit one house (F)
  2. Only one house survived the storm (T)
  3. A wise person listens to Jesus (T)
  4. The foolish man did not listen to Jesus (F)
  5. Jesus tells us what we need to do to survive the trials of life (T)

Jesus uses a lot of contrasts and comparisons when He communicates.  Last week we looked at two different gates, two different roads, and two different destinations.  Jesus does this in order to show us that there are really only two options.  We are either trusting Christ and have entered through the narrow gate or we’ve gone through the wide gate.  We’re on the road to heaven or on the highway to hell.  According to the Bible, there are only two ways – Christ and everything else.  Notice the word “everyone” is used twice to indicate that there are no exceptions and no room for middle ground.  One way leads to life; the other leads to death.  

1. Two builders. 

We’re introduced in this story to two different men.  By all appearances, they may have looked the same, used the same tools, and they both were committed to build a home for their families.  They may have used identical materials and both persevered until their homes were finished.  Notice that there are only two kinds of builders – once again Jesus divides people into just two groups.  Everyone is building, for to live is to build.  Our desires, thoughts, attitudes, actions and words are building blocks – over time a structure arises.  The question becomes: Are you building to last or to crash?

  • Wise man.  The word “wise” means “to be thoughtful, understanding and prudent.”  Proverbs 10:8: “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.”
  • Foolish man.  This is the word moros, from which we get “moron.”  The root meaning is deficiency and was used of one who is stupid and foolish.  The foolish man took short cuts because he wanted quick results and instant gratification.  The foolish live just for the moment and give no thought to the future.  Proverbs 14:1 provides a good contrast between the wise and the fool: “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” 

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said: “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”  

2. Two houses. 

From the outside, both homes appeared to be well-built and neither looked to be defective.  One house may have gone up quicker than the other, but both looked quite secure and sturdy in good weather.  The houses are finished and furnished but there’s a huge difference between them.  Here’s the point.  The difference between two lives is not always obvious, at first.  On the surface the houses look about the same…at least when the sun’s shining.

The house on the sand may have started to shift even before the storm came.  Gaps likely appeared in the walls as the timbers slipped.  The owner probably patched up the holes, only to see more appear, even as the outside appeared to be fine.  That’s a picture of people who don’t have a solid foundation.  Great gaps and hideous holes show up and sometimes are immediately filled with that which doesn’t satisfy but gives the appearance that all is well.

3. Two foundations. 

The main difference between the two builders is that only one took the time and determination to dig down to the solid rock and anchor his abode to that which would not move.  And all this work was out of sight.  The foundation of his house was fastened to the rock while the foundation of the other house settled on sand.  The nature of sand is to be shifting, sliding and sinking while a rock is stationary, strong and secure.

The contrast is brought out more strongly in Luke 6:48 where we read that the wise man “… dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.”  The word for rock here is “petra,” which is not used for a stone or even a big boulder but for a large expanse of bedrock which is solid, stable and immovable.  The Rock is Christ and the sand is self.  We see this in 1 Corinthians 3:11: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  Many of us know the song that goes like this: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

I recently read about what happened when a ship capsized at sea.  Many drowned but one teenager was found clinging to a rock.  After he was rescued someone asked him if he was terrified.  He responded by saying, “Yes, I was shaking all the time…but the rock wasn’t.”  Psalm 18:2: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.”

4. Same storm. 

I saw this week that forecasters were calling for the season’s first tropical depression in the Atlantic Ocean.  With hurricane season just around the corner, we know that storms are coming, we just don’t know when.  It strikes me how abruptly and suddenly this storm comes on the scene.  Listen to the Amplified version: “And the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great and complete was the fall of it.”  Notice that adversity comes from above (the rain fell) and from below (the floods came) and from all sides (the winds blew).  Problems drench us like driving rain.  Stress surrounds us like rising flood waters and pressures pound us like whipping hurricane-force winds.  

Observe also that the same storm hits both houses.  No individual is immune from adversity.  Jesus said it like this in Matthew 5:45: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  There are no storm-free zones where we can avoid wacky weather.  Spurgeon writes, “Whether your religion be true or not, it will be tried.”  Foundations are usually hidden and are only proved by storms.  Storms can serve as wake-up calls, can’t they?  Some of you are in church today because some sort of stress has entered your life.  Storms also test the faithful to see what we’re really made of.

I’m often asked this question by believers who are going through stormy times: “How do people get through stuff like this without the Lord?”  My answer generally is something like this: “They don’t do very well.”

5. Two destinies. 

The word “beat” means to violently strike and to dash against something.  While hard times come in this life, nothing will compare to what is to come in the future for those who do not follow Christ: “and it fell with a great crash.”  The crash is great because it results in eternal separation and everlasting torment.  It will be drastic and dreadful and most will be unprepared.  The wise will withstand and the foolish will fall.

One of my favorite commentators is Albert Barnes.  Listen to what he wrote about this passage: “The house built upon the sand is beat upon by the floods and rains; its foundation gradually is worn away; it falls, and is borne down the stream and is destroyed.  So falls the sinner.  The floods are wearing away his sandy foundation; and soon one tremendous storm shall beat upon him, and he and his hopes shall fall, for ever fall… an eternal tempest shall beat around his naked soul…What will be his emotions when sinking forever in the flood, and when he realizes that he is destined forever to live and writhe in the peltings of that ceaseless storm?”

Storms on the outside reveal what’s on the inside.  There’s a great shaking coming according to Hebrews 12:26-27: “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.  The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.”  

Those who practice what Jesus preaches will weather the storms of life

Now, let’s bring this all together to get at the main point of the parable.  Both men had the privilege of hearing the words of Jesus.  The only difference between the two men is that while both of the men listened to the words of Jesus, only one lived them out.  The wise man heard and heeded the Word of God.  If you want your life to last, then listen to Jesus and live what He says.  Proverbs 10:25: “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.”  Those who practice what Jesus preaches will weather the storms of life.

Putting It into Practice

Charles Spurgeon points out the purpose behind this parable of Jesus: “Our Lord closes not by displaying his own powers of elocution, but by simply and affectionately addressing a warning to those who, having heard his words, should remain satisfied with hearing, and should not go forth and put them into practice.”  Let’s focus now on some ways to put this parable into practice.

1. Stop excusing disobedience.

One of the most frustrating things I hear goes something like this: “I know what the Bible says, but…”  That’s what a fool says.  Let’s determine to be a wise man or woman and respond like this, “I know what the Bible says, therefore I will obey it.”   James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”  Listening is different than living.  Psalm 119:4: “You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.”

I spoke with someone recently about his sinful choices and behavior and urged him to stop sinning and do what’s right.  I was grieved when the response I heard was something like this: “I know its wrong but this is what I want to do.”  In contrast to this, I met with another individual this week who told me that him and his wife “made up for their giving” for the past four weeks when they were out of town.  He told me that God has blessed them and that he wants to obey Him in every way he knows how.  When He told me what has happened since they gave this make-up offering, he had a smile from ear-to-ear.  That’s the contrast between a fool and someone who is wise.  A wise man builds his life on the Lord Jesus Christ.  The fool has fastened his life to shifting sand.

Let’s go back to the story.  It says “everyone who hears…and puts them into practice.”  This is in the present tense, meaning that we are to continually hear and continually heed.  Here’s the literal translation: “and keeps doing them.”  Listen to what Jesus said in John 13:17: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  Luke 11:28 echoes the same sentiment: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Are you putting yourself in a position to continually hear God’s Word by reading the Bible daily?  Are you committed to regular Sunday morning participation?  Are you plugged into a small group?  It’s hard to live what you haven’t learned.  That’s why Karen Eggenberger has the first graders in Sunday School memorize the 10 Commandments and why we give them their own Bibles as they head into the second grade.  

For some of us, we listen a lot but live little.  What is it that God is calling you to put into practice?  In what area do you need to obey Him?  Is it in your giving, in your serving, in your loving, in your forgiveness, in your thought life, in your attitudes, or in your behavior? 

2. Prepare for the storms.

When storms come, and they will, it isn’t a matter of us holding on to Christ; it’s a matter of Him holding on to us.  Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  Storms can be a good thing as Psalm 119:67 states: “Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I obey your Word.”  Someone has said that the storms of life reveal the strength of our faith.  

3. Check your foundation.

As churchgoers we’re in danger of doing a lot of listening but not so much living out what we hear.  Most of the people listening to Jesus that day would have considered themselves to be His followers.  Could it be that some of us are not Christians, even though we think we are?  2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test?”  

Some of us are too soft and too shallow.  It’s time to go deep.  The main difference between these two men is that one of them took the time to go underground while the other stayed on the surface.  You can’t really tell from looking at someone how deep their roots are but you can tell by what happens when horrible things come.

While we don’t talk like this anymore, the words of Puritan Thomas Brooks are penetrating: “Reader, remember this: If thy knowledge do not now affect thy heart, it will at last, with a witness, afflict thy heart.”  Check out Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase: “But if you use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach.  When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”  

4. Turn your house into a home.

If you are a parent, I urge you to lay down a deep foundation for your family.  Your kids are under construction and you are charged with giving them a good start.  If you don’t have Christ as the Rock of your home, then you are in great danger of being swept away.  Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”  Please pray for our leadership as we implement our vision to focus on families here at PBC and in our county.

A heavy rain had stopped falling just before a man drove down a lonely road. As he rounded a curve, he saw an old farmer surveying the ruins of his barn.  The driver stopped to ask what happened. “Roof fell in,” said the farmer. “Leaked so long it just rotted clear through.” “Why didn’t you fix it before it got so bad?” asked the stranger. “Well, sir,” replied the farmer, “I just never seemed to get around to it.  When the weather was good, I didn’t need to.  And when it rained, it was too wet to work on!”  Friends, it’s time to get around to it.

Finding a Firm Foundation

Twelve miles off the coast of Scotland stands the Bell Rock Lighthouse.  It’s the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse.  It was built on an acre of solid rock in the middle of the North Sea.  Waves and storms have been crashing into it for around 200 years, but it still stands.  Why?  It remains a beacon of light because of its solid foundation.

On the outside, some people look like they have it all together.  They have a nice family and do a bunch of good things that are impressive and admirable.  But eventually a storm comes and it all comes crashing down.

Let me personalize it.  Every one of us is a builder and our life is like a house.  Our lives are made from the same materials as other lives and they are pummeled by the same problems.  There are storms of sickness, sin, sorrow, suffering, financial stress, relational conflicts and tornados bearing any of a thousand other names.  Some of you will weather these storms because you have wisely built your life on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Others of you will compromise and capsize.  

It’s time to stop building your life on shifting sand.  Storms will come in this life and there’s a final storm coming that will sweep away everyone who is not anchored to Christ.  Do you know that it’s dangerous to come to church and hear sermons?  I’m reminded of the robot on “Lost in Space,” a classic TV series from the 60s.  He would warn young Will when he was unaware of an impending threat.  Some of you can recite the line with me: “Warning.  Warning.  Danger.  Will Robinson.”  It’s perilous to listen to preaching without putting it into practice.  If you want your life to last, then listen to Jesus and live what He says.  

Look at the last two verses of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:28-29.  They reveal how people reacted to Jesus: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”  The word “amazed” means they were “struck out of their senses.”  Or to put it in our language, “They were blown away.”  We don’t know if these listeners actually applied what Jesus said or were just amazed.  They may have been astonished and applauded but they just sat there, feeling good about hearing a good sermon.  They recognized His authority but there’s no indication that they submitted to Him.

Some of you know that I’m half Irish (the other half is Polish – why are you laughing?).  I think that’s why I have always liked Irish dancing.  In fact, there’s a Folger’s coffee commercial that has Irish dancing in it and whenever I watch it I get teary.  Last month my wife took me to see Riverdance.  We had a blast.  The music was impressive and the dancing was amazing.  

I clapped hard and even stood with others at the end to give them an ovation.  But then it was all over and we left.  The same thing can happen to us after hearing a sermon.  We can listen and maybe even applaud a little, but then we just get up and leave.  In Ezekiel 33:32, God tells the prophet that this is exactly what the people were doing: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

It’s time to not just be impressed and amazed by Jesus but to actually accept Him into your life.  Some of you know you are on shaky ground and you’re ready to be anchored to the Rock.  I want to give you the opportunity to do that right now because Hebrews 9:27 is real: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”

Last week we ended the service with an invitation but I did not ask people to publicly respond.  Let me tell you why I didn’t.  I’ve been so convicted by the sermon on serving in secret that I’ve realized my motives get all misaligned.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted people to respond just so I could feel good about the sermon so I just chose to not ask people to stand.  I think my motives are better this morning.  This isn’t for me or about me.  It’s about you and God and making sure your foundation is secure.

2 Timothy 2:19: “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’” 

If you’re ready to settle this once for all by getting off the sand, I want you to stand right now.  It’s time to take His hand and get to know the Lord Jesus Christ.   Confess His name and turn from wickedness.  When you do, the Lord says, “I know those who are mine.”  And you will be cemented to God’s solid foundation that will always stand firm.

If you’re ready to place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and transfer your life to the solid Rock, would you pray this prayer right now?

“God, I confess to you that I’ve been building my life on the wrong foundation.  I’m a sinner and I’ve been making a mess of my life.  I turn from the way I’ve been living and I want to learn from you and live out what is true.  I believe that your Son Jesus died on the cross in my place, taking my sins upon Himself and that He was raised on the third day.  I believe and now I receive the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.  Anchor me to your solid foundation that I might serve you unswervingly for the rest of my life.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?