October 2, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 7:24-27

Well, here we are at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. It has been a great ride. But it is a little like saying goodbye to a good friend...at least for me. You hate for a good thing to come to an end...but I’m also excited about where we are going. The danger of being done with a series like this is to think that we are done with it...but this is the kind of thing we can’t just let go.

Next week we begin a new series called Revolution. We will be looking at the book of 1 John and how God wants to start a revolution of love in each one of us that changes us and changes the world around us. You’ll want to bring your Bibles...you will be able to place a book mark in there and look really, really holy because you will be able to open it up before anyone else can even find that spot. And you can feel good about that.

It is going to be a good series that challenges us to grow in love. And what a great way to kick off our Grand Opening...talking about love and acceptance and God’s desire to transform us with His love. Many of you saw or received our invitation this week. So let’s be praying together as we look to what’s ahead for our church.

This morning we are talking about a story that is probably very familiar to you. If you attended Sunday School as a child you probably sang about it...The wise man built his house upon the rock...

It is always a bit hard to preach on a familiar passage...because everyone is familiar with it, and it doesn’t generate the interest that something unfamiliar has. We have to listen more carefully to hear God speak through the passage because we are so used to hearing it.

But if we can get past the cutesy childhood song and past our own familiarity...there is something that God wants to say to us again today.

So let’s read the passage...

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.”
We have heard this story before, and to those who have ever worked in construction or ever had foundation problems at your home...you know the reality of having a good foundation.

Our house in Pleasant Hill, Missouri was over 115 years old. It had a decent foundation, but underneath our house was a main beam that supported everything and the foundations stones for this beam needed a little help. As the weather changed and the ground shifted and settled throughout the years, the house would shift and doors wouldn’t open and close properly. And I was into golf at the time and the floor had a shifting break in the dining room floor that I used for putting practice. I would have to read how the ball would travel across the different movements of the floor. Great practice, but made me a little nervous at times living there.

Every year I had to crawl under the house to make adjustments. I had to put in these metal support poles to help stabilize things, and would have to tighten or loosen so that the doors of our house would open or close properly. Hoping all the time that the house didn’t collapse with me in this 2 ½ foot crawl space under the house.

Foundations are important because if you don’t build on solid ground, the whole house could collapse in on itself.

Have you heard about Palm Island in Dubai? It is this gorgeous, exclusive city of sorts off the coast of Dubai. It has houses, businesses, and entertainment facilities spread out across this island shaped like a giant palm tree.

The “ground” is made up of sand dredged from other areas and deposited here until an Island is formed.

They are building these amazing houses on the islands. It is just beautiful!

But despite the best efforts of the construction companies involved, The New York Times reported that the island is sinking by about ¼” a year, and could actually sink faster depending on various geologic and weather factors. Which means that eventually either the island will have to have some major adjustments made or all of these houses and businesses will sink into the ocean.

Again we see that foundations are important because if you don’t build on solid ground, the whole house will collapse in on itself.

This house was built too close to the river, and when the flood came, the foundation eroded and the houses collapsed and were swept away.

I like that lady’s response, “Well that took care of that!” It’s probably wrong of me to be rooting for the bridge isn’t it?

Foundations are important because if you don’t build on solid ground, the whole house will collapse in on itself. Every builder knows when you build a house you need to have a solid foundation. If you don’t that house will be unstable. So Jesus uses this metaphor of building on a good foundation and then compares it to our lives.

Every day we are building a house of sorts for ourselves. We are all builders of our own house. We are building our character. We are building our families. We are building our future us with every decision we make. What you decide to do or not do today will affect who you will be in the future.

And as we are building this house we are living in, Jesus makes the bold claim that if we want a firm foundation, we must build our lives on His teaching. If our foundation is built on anything other than His teaching we are like the homeowner who builds his house on a foundation of sand. So when the trials and struggles of life come, our foundation will be swept right out from under us.

The Gospel of Matthew places this story at the end of the Sermon on the Mount...the sermon where Jesus has just laid out what it means to be a part of His Kingdom. He has laid it all out there...what kind of people the Kingdom of God blesses, anger and murder, lust, integrity, prayer, giving, fasting, worry, having the right treasure, how we treat our neighbors and our enemies. This is a foundation that stands in stark contrast to the one the Pharisees were trying to build.

So building a firm foundation...one built on rock...one that will sustain our house when the wind and rain falls on us...we must build our lives on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching as found here in the Sermon on the Mount.

And it is not just knowing the message of the Sermon on the Mount...it is the doing it. Jesus says in this passage, “...everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man...” Two things you notice here: Hear the words and put them into practice.

For some people the last thing they need is another Bible study. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Bible. I love studying it and learning from it. I think everybody ought to read and study it and read and study it more than we do. I believe it is God’s Word to us. But some people are more interested in knowledge about the God and the Bible than actually knowing God. And the last thing they need is another Bible study...what they need is to put what they already know into practice.

Putting Jesus' Words into Experience

But some have tried to put Jesus words into practice and failed because they didn’t do it the way Jesus commanded them.

Some have tried to put Jesus words into practice under their own power, and I believe that people can live out a good portion of the actual words of the commands of Jesus without any help. Even the Apostle Paul was able to say that according to legalistic righteousness he was flawless.

But in order to do this they build up systems with rules for everything. Usually emphasizing all the things you “Don’t do!” And while this looks holy and righteous they have simply built another foundation of legalism similar to the one Jesus condemns here in Matthew 5-7. They get the words correct, but miss the spirit of what is being said.

On the other side you have those who look at the words of Jesus and think, “Those are hard. I can never do that!” Or, they try a little bit and then stop because it is hard to obey. So because it is too hard or they are just spiritually lazy, they never even try to put Jesus’ words into practice. But they too can make it sound so holy with talk about God’s grace and forgiveness and love, all the while using it as an excuse to seem obedient while they do whatever they want. They are able to actually avoid living out the words of Jesus...because they are too hard.

The Apostle Paul writes Timothy about how to deal with false teachers and says it this way in 2 Timothy 3:2-5, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power...”

Did you see that list. We recognize that people who do all those things are far from what God wants for His people, but somehow they have fool people into thinking they are godly. These ar false teachers who seem like they are following Jesus’ teaching; they have a form or the appearance of godliness...but they deny its power...they don’t allow it to actually take hold and works it power in their lives.

They would rather look godly than actually be godly.

So you have these two ways...rules, regulations, and a new legalism, or this “grace and forgiveness” but really a do your own thing way...both of which are just poor human replacements for what God really wants to do in our lives. Because what He really wants to do is not give another set of laws or make things so difficult we give up. He wants more than an appearance of godliness...He want actual godliness in our lives.

He wants to accomplish His promise as found in Jeremiah 31
“I will put my law in their minds
  and write it on their hearts.”
So what is the answer? The answer can be seen at the end of the passage from Paul. These people “having a form of godliness but denying its power...” This passage is an indictment about those who look godly but are not really godly...but this verse makes me ask the question...what is this power they are denying?

How are we enabled to do the words of Jesus?

To put it positively...What if we tapped into that power so we didn’t have the appearance of godliness? What if we lived in this power so that we had actual godliness? What would our lives look like if we had this power that enabled us to put Jesus’ words into practice?

Here is what I know. Jesus has laid out His teaching for us, and He has called us to obey it. He gives us the Sermon on the Mount and then calls us to put His words into practice. I also know that our attempts to do this on our own will only lead to failure. We will either be another form of legalism or we will give up because it is too hard or we are too lazy.

But I also know that if He calls us to do something He must have a way for us to do it.

That power the false teachers denied...is the power of the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, to lead us and transform us so that we can actually put Jesus’ words into practice.

The Gospel of John says it this way in 16:13-14, “But when he, the Spirit of truth [that is the Holy Spirit], comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”

Jesus promises that His Holy Spirit will come alongside us and guide us into all truth. That He will lead us and guide us...because He will lead us using the words of Jesus.

We get to work in synergism with God. That’s a big word meaning we get to work with God. It is not all us meaning we have to find a way to do what He tells us to do...and it is not all God meaning He is not going to force us to obey. He calls us to a higher standard of Christian living and maturity, and then says you have to do this, but as you do it I will be there empowering you with my Spirit to accomplish what I have called you to do. Without the Holy Spirit this whole thing falls apart.

The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to put Jesus’ words into practice. He guides us into all truth. He leads us...but we have to follow. We can’t do this on our own, but He will not force us to obey...because if you are forced to do something it isn’t really obedience is it...it’s slavery or coercion or something else. No, we have to make the steps forward. We have to be obedient, but it is an empowered obedience.

Do you remember those spinning wheel of death merry-go-round things that were on the playground as a child. They were awesome!!!! In order to make it work you had to wedge yourself in so that you didn’t fall off, but you could still touch the ground with your foot to get that thing spinning fast. I kicked and kicked and had other kids on the other side kicking with me to get that thing spinning.

But what I really wanted to happen was for someone’s dad to come over and start spinning us because Dad’s could get that thing going so fast you felt like you would just fly off at any moment. Your tiny little fingers were just barely able to hold on to the bar as the centrifugal force tried to hurl you to certain death.

But I always hated it when the mom came over. Nobody wanted the mom to come over because she would never spin it too fast. She was afraid one of us would get hurled off the like a rag doll and have to go to the hospital. So it was always steady and safe. That thing was a tool of death...there should be no safe! Dad’s were still childish enough to spin that thing like their manhood depended on how fast it went.

I could get that thing to spin when no one helped, but it was a lot better when the dad came over and began spinning it. The same thing is true with the Christian life. It can be somewhat done by yourself. Let’s not get into a discussion of how much...but we can agree that we can be good...we can do some good things...we can avoid bad things. We can become good people. We can obey some of the things that Jesus says to do...but if you really want this thing to work...if you really want to be able to put these things into practice with power you need the Holy Spirit.

This isn’t about earning our own salvation or getting a better standing with God because of the things we do...this has nothing to do with status or level change. We have to shift metaphors when it comes to our relationship with God. Status and level accomplished by good works still holds on to a finish line mentality. If I just do this or that I will get in. But Jesus calls us to a life. He calls us to a journey. And a journey is very different than a destination. Obedience has everything to do with being what God has called us to be through the power of the Holy Spirit. He called us to follow Him...to do life in the Jesus way.

Let’s take one of the issues presented to us by the Sermon on the Mount and work through it.

There is someone who just rubs you the wrong way. Or maybe they hurt you on purpose. Every word they say about you is aimed to hurt you or demean you or just make you mad. The natural first reaction is to punch them in the face, or complain about them behind their back, or get mad and hold a grudge against them forever! Killing them may be the last thing you want to do...but it is still on the list.

But then you read this passage from the Sermon on the Mount that says to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and there is that pesky prayer that says “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others” and you know that you are supposed to put Jesus words into practice. You know that if you are going to build on the strong foundation of Jesus teaching that you need to do something different than what you really want to do to them.

Those are hard things to do when someone has hurt you. It is hard to forgive and love when they seem bent on damaging you. But it is the times of testing that reveal your foundation...those with foundations of sand will go with what seems natural. But those who have built their foundation on the teaching of Jesus will react differently.

And it all begins with deciding to do things in the way of Jesus. As soon as we take that first step, the Holy Spirit begins to work in our lives and empowers that decision so that we can obey Jesus’ words.

There was this lady who was causing trouble for me at a church where I was youth pastor. She was hurt and wanted to hurt others, and I was on her list. I was beginning to hate her. I didn’t want to talk to her or be around her or have anything to do with, which is hard when she has a son in your youth group and is on the youth leadership team. So my pastor challenged me to pray for her.

The last thing I wanted to do was pray for her. Ignore her...yes. Tell her off...yes. Strangle her...yes. Not pray. But I did anyway. And what happened was amazing...she didn’t change, but I did. As soon as I started praying the Holy Spirit started working in my heart, and made it so that I was able to love my enemy. He transformed me when I put Jesus’ words into practice.

I didn’t hate her or avoid her or want to strangle her anymore. Does that bother you to think that a pastor might want to strangle one of his or her congregation? Well get used to it because it happens more than we like to admit. Don’t worry, I’m praying for you.

This is just one example of how to put Jesus’ words into practice. But you can put any one of Jesus’ teaching in here and if you start by doing your part, and then depending on the Holy Spirit...He will work and empower and transform so that you CAN live the words of Jesus.

The alternative is a house built on a foundation of sand. It is the house built on taking the easy way out or creating a new system of rules or the way of just doing what comes naturally. It is the way of anything but hearing and putting into practice Jesus’ words.

We go back to Jesus words in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

This is a life of intentionality...this is the life where you chose to build with a foundation on solid rock...This is choosing to hear and do the words of Jesus and depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to help you live it out.

Life will test our foundations. There is no if we will be tested...there is only when we will be tested. The rains and winds and floods will come. Our foundations will be tested whether we are inside or outside of the way of Jesus. And If we build our house on anything other than the teaching of Jesus we are like the home owner who builds his house on a foundation of sand. When the trials and struggles and problems come they will sweep the foundations out from under our house and we will be left with a pile of rubble.

But when we build our lives on Jesus’ words...when hear His teaching and put His words into practice we are like a man who builds his house on solid rock...even though the trials and struggles and problems of life will beat against it...it will not fail.

This morning you may be facing some trials and struggle and problems that are beating at the foundations of your life. If you have built on the foundation of Jesus words, You need to know that you can withstand them. God has give you the Holy Spirit. He has give you a community of people to gather around you and strengthen you. You can make it.

If, however, you have built on a foundation of sand...there is no time like the present to redo the foundation. Rebuild now while you have time. Start working to build on the foundation of Jesus’ words, and when you do the Holy Spirit will lead and guide and empower you to withstand the storm. 

This message was preached at Crossroads Vineyard Church in Huber Heights, Ohio.

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