How many of us have heard the children sing “The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock at Vacation Bible School? And how many of us have sung the hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” in church? Surely these words from the Sermon on the Mount are well known in the church community.
These words of Jesus come at the end of the sermon and act to sum up all that He has taught. It also acts in a way similar to what we today call the “altar call”. These words are meant for the listener to decide what they are going to do with the words of Jesus. We saw earlier in our study that Jesus placed His words on par with those of what we call the Old Testament. As Jesus said that every jot and tittle of Scripture must be fulfilled, Jesus would be making the same claim for His own words. The words that Jesus spoke are the very words of God Himself.
Jesus uses an illustration here from the geography of the nearby wilderness to emphasize the importance of giving proper weight to his teaching. The wilderness is a tortured landscape with deep winding gullies, high heat, and normally very, very dry. These gullies extended for miles. Most of the time, they would be bone dry. But still, water could be found underneath the dry stream bed, or even a few pools at the surface for short periods of time. This was not a place for the faint of heart to live. Only a few wandering shepherds, religious zealots, and thieves escaping the law would try to live there. Yet, this is the place where God sustained the Children of Israel for forty years on manna. At times he provided water by having Moses strike a rock.
One of the characteristics of the wilderness was that when it did rain, it rained very hard. This rain might fall miles away. Yet, a few miles away, it remained sunny, hot, and dry. Without warning, a rushing sound would be heard, followed by a rushing flood of water. This flash flood would wash away anything that wasn’t firmly fixed. Many a unprepared person has been swept away in such matter.
Although there is no direct reference here, an active imagination might go back to the account of the flood in the Book of Genesis. Jesus in another place did make the connection between the last times and the flood, as did the Apostle Peter. It was business as usual in that day, people were buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage, oblivious to the danger that was about to rush upon them. It was a sunny day in the wilderness of sin. Then the flood came and washed them away. Only Noah and His family, warned by God of the real danger prepared themselves by following God’s command to build a large boat. Actually, the word we translate “ark” from the Hebrew, is similar to the word for “coffin” or “box”. So in a sense, Noah escaped death in a coffin. In a similar way, the Christian is delivered by the death of Jesus. This same word “ark” is used for the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament in which the blood of animals was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat. God’s wrath was propitiated from the People of Israel through a sacrificial death of an animal which pointed forward to the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The decision which Jesus is forcing here is based upon the Hebrew two way theology. There is no middle ground. One or the other outcome awaits all people, whether salvation or the eternal destruction which will sweep away all who fail to heed Jesus’ words and put them into practice. Ignorance is no excuse. It is true that Jesus only addresses two groups of people, those who have heard His words and put them into practice and those who heard them and did not. But Jesus could only address the people who had contact with His words. This does not mean that those who have not heard are off the hook as they are totally unprepared for what will happen at the Last Judgment. According to Romans and the Westminster Confession of Faith, all people have knowledge of the true God which they willfully suppress. God has clearly revealed Himself in nature as well as in the conscience. In this sense, they have heard the word of God and have refused it and fall into the group who have heard and ignored the Word of God. This natural knowledge is enough to condemn, though without the special revelation of Jesus is unable to save. This is why it is so important to evangelize, that by this God-appointed means, some might be awakened to faith.
The analogy Jesus uses is simple enough to understand, even for those who do not live in areas prone to flash floods. The common element of these two groups is that they have heard the Word of God. The difference, then, is in the response. The wise man is the one who heeds the warning and takes the prudent steps to ensure when the flood does come, that they won’t be swept away. The foolish man shortcuts or dismisses the warning to their own demise. When we looked at Noah, he took heed and acted upon God’s word. I can only think that for the extended period of time that he preached the warning to His neighbors. At least, the building of a boat on dry land would have attracted the attention of Noah’s neighbor. As far as we know, it had never rained. God used the dew of the morning to water the earth. Certainly they enquired of Noah who certainly would have told them. They heard the words of God and did not put them into practice.
Another analogy from Scripture can be found in Genesis 13. Abraham and his nephew Lot had become so rich in livestock that the marginal land in which they lived could not sustain them both. There was a decision to be made. One decision was to give away the surplus to feed and clothe the poor of the land. But both Abraham and Lot, enriched by the wealth of Egypt, made a fateful decision to part. Abraham as the superior offered the choice to stay or leave to Lot. It says that Lot saw the well-watered plain around Sodom in the area of the Dead Sea. The low elevation and natural gushes of water like the spring at En-Gedi made it a tropical paradise in which all kinds of exotic fruits grew. So Lot broke protocol by choosing what he considered the natural choice and left Abraham in the wilderness areas at the border of Canaan. But Lot’s decision was fateful. The passage warns that the people of Sodom were exceeding sinner before the Lord. There was warning. But Lot chose the way of sand and lost it all. He would have lost his life as well except for the Lord’s gracious rescue. But he finished his days living in a cave, having lost it all.
We all know how unprepared the world is for the judgment of God. We hear their scoffing every day. But it is even more distressing to see that there are many “Lot’s” in the church today who are equally unprepared. They have not taken Jesus’ words to heart and acted upon them. They instead build their lives upon the sands of this world. The world looks more promising. It appears to be well-watered. These people think that material blessing is proof of the Lord’s favor. Their attitude is Heaven now. We live in a church today in which many ministers water down the Word of God to scratch the itching ears of followers. They have ceased to give warning of the impending judgment and have gone to preaching prosperity. But be assured from the authority of the Word of God that judgment is coming. The world is guilty of great sin before the face of God, and He is coming to judge.
Because the full counsel of God, every jot and tittle of it, is not being proclaimed by too many pulpits today, people are ignorant of the true danger they are in. Even if one takes the best case scenario. The unprepared church member will come to the grief of Lot. When the rushing water comes, they will be those who have used inferior materials upon which to build their lives. Their work will be burned with fire, and they will only be saved by the grace of God. Yet they will suffer great loss.
But I feel that this is even too optimistic. Paul in Corinthians is in a sense talking about the ministry he, Apollos, and others had offered the Corinthian church. It was built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. This passage in Corinthians then differs from the passage here in one very important aspect. In this passage, the wise man is the one who builds his house upon a rock which Jesus says is His own words, the words of God. The fool disregards the words of Jesus and builds his house upon a different foundation. How many people in the church today are in the second camp? There is a big difference between those who make poor building choices on a good foundation and those who have chosen to build what appears to be a good building upon another foundation. There are probably both types in the church. Even the best Christian all too often makes bad choices. We live in Luther’s dilemma of being simultaneously justified, yet sinners. But there are those who are in the churches who are not Christians at all, despite what they claim.
The one who would minister truly the Word of God must challenge his congregation and hearers with these words of Jesus. We must warn those who are in the church as well as those outside of the coming judgment. They may ignore the warning, but as God told Ezekiel in Chapters 3 and 33, the minister of God is called to be a watchman. When they see the enemy come, they are to give warning. If the people fail to heed this warning, then the minister is delivered or responsibility of their fate. But if the minister fails to warn, then he will be swept away with the flock. How seriously should we take the call to proclaim the Word of God which is the only rescue!
Many times, when we think of the enemy, we think of Satan. One could have seen in the days of Ezekiel that the godless Babylonians were the enemy from which the people needed to be warned. However, this would miss the true point. It is true that the ISIS of their day could be quite barbaric as their predecessors the Assyrians were. It would only seem natural that we would want to protect ourselves from such people. However, Scripture is equally clear that the Babylonians were being used by God as a means of judgment for the sins of Judah and their rejection of the Word of God. They had built their religion upon the sun, moon, and stars mixed with a little of the Torah. They killed their own offspring in the most tortuous ways. They build sacred places to other gods than Yahweh, the only and true God.
In other words, the Israelites did not realize that it was the very God they claimed to serve was their true enemy. It was He who challenged them “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel”. This word “meet” means “to meet in battle”. The church at Sardis in the Book of Revelation also did not realize that they were a synagogue of Satan. Sardis had once been taken because the soldiers of Croesus had not been careful. A soldier went down a secret path on the mountain to retrieve a helmet. One of Cyrus’ soldiers noticed this. That night, Cyrus’ soldiers went up this unguarded secret path and took the city. So when Jesus tells the church there to be watchful, they aren’t being challenged to be on the lookout for Satan. Rather, they are to be on the lookout for the judgment of Jesus upon the church. Just like there were a few faithful in Jerusalem who were spared the judgment, and one family in the great flood, there was a few in Sardis which would be spared.
The church, likewise, needs to be warned of the wrath to come. When John Wesley created his Methodist societies, the doorway to membership was a desire to escape the wrath to come. This of course has been utterly forgotten in the United Methodist Church today. No one wants to hear about the wrath of God. They want a god who loves everybody and everything, a god who indulges them. They are like those who know how to eat proper and balance meals, yet choose not to. When they get into trouble as a result, they go to the doctor, whose advice they spurned, and ask for a pill or operation to fix them. Yet, many of them continue in their old ways. I have seen people who are being treated for emphysema puffing on cigarettes and those who are on insulin pigging out on cake. We don’t want the real cure. Instead, we want something that will let us continue to do what we are doing without impunity.
In like matter, we reject Jesus who is the only cure for sin. Instead, we want a divine fixer-upper that allows us to continue in sin without its consequences. This is something God will not allow. Do not be fooled!
The wise man builds his house upon the rock of the Word of God. This means studying God’s Word on a regular basis, praying that God will upon up its meaning through the Holy Spirit. This is the proper action to take; Jesus Christ is the sure foundation, the solid rock upon which we build our faith. Faith is not passive. It is true it is received as God’s gift that way. But the gift of God also urges the believer into action. The true disciple hears the Word of God and puts them into practice.
I offer you no shortcuts, no easy way. I can only offer to you what God has said to the very best of my ability which truly has to be enabled by God’s grace and wisdom alone. I have delivered my soul from judgment this morning if I have been careful to proclaim the entire counsel of God. Now will you take heed to the warning of Jesus? The consequences of the wrong action are simply too great to ignore.