Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall. (7:24–27)
The second evidence that the many (vv. 13, 22) who are in the broad way will not enter the kingdom is that their lives are not built on the foundation of Christ and His Word. Again Jesus picks up the theme of man’s own righteousness, the righteousness that is totally unacceptable to God and that will in no way qualify a person for His kingdom (Matt. 5:20).
In the first illustration (vv. 21–23) we see a contrast between the true and false verbal professions of faith and good works. Here we see contrasts between obedient and disobedient hearers. Both groups hear God’s true Word, but some hear and obey, and some hear and disobey; some turn their trust to God’s righteousness, and some continue trusting in their own, though that does not become visible until the judgment.
The implication is that even those who disobey believe that they belong to Christ and make a convincing profession of faith in Him. They hear God’s Word and recognize it as God’s Word, but wrongly believe that simply knowing and recognizing it are enough to please God and guarantee them a place in His kingdom. Like those who say, “Lord, Lord,” and do amazing religious works but really “practice lawlessness,” the false hearers build their religious house, but are self-deceived as to its viability.
In the illustration of those who make false professions, the true believers are mentioned only by implication (“not everyone who says to me,” v. 21). In the illustration of the hearers and builders, however, both the true and the false believers are clearly described. In these two groups we see many similarities but also some radical differences.
First of all, both builders have heard the gospel. Everyone who hears these words of Mine applies both to the wise man (v. 24) and to the foolish man (v. 26). They both know the way of salvation.
Second, they both proceed to build a house after they have heard the way of salvation. The wise man builds his house, which represents his life, on these words of Mine. The implication is that the foolish man, although he does not act upon Christ’s words, thinks that his house is secure simply because he has heard and acknowledged the words. He believes the life he lives is Christian and therefore pleasing to God. He does not intentionally build a house he thinks is going to fall. Both builders have confidence their houses will stand; but one man’s confidence is in the Lord and the other man’s is in himself.
Third, both builders build their houses in the same general location, evidenced by their apparently being hit by the same storm. In other words, the outward circumstances of their lives were essentially the same. One had no advantage over the other. They lived in the same town and possibly attended the same church, heard the same preaching, went to the same Bible study, and fellowshipped with the same friends.
Fourth, the implication is that they built the same kind of house. Outwardly their houses were very much alike. From all appearances the foolish man lived much in the same way as the wise man. We might say they were both religious, theologically orthodox, moral, served in the church, supported it financially, and were responsible citizens of the community. They seemed to believe alike and live alike.
The differences between the two builders and the two houses they built were not noticeable from the outside. But they were immeasurably more important than the similarities. The key is to understand that one does act upon God’s Word (obedience) and the other does not act upon His Word (disobedience). One builds using the divine specifications, the other uses his own.
By far the greatest difference between the specifications of these builders and the way they build is in the foundations they laid. The wise man … built his house upon the rock, whereas the foolish man … built his house upon the sand.
Petra (rock) does not mean a stone or even a boulder, but a great outcropping of rock, a large expanse of bedrock. It is solid, stable, and unmovable. Sand, by contrast, is loose, unstable, and extremely movable. The land agents selling lots on the sand are the false prophets Jesus has just warned about (vv. 15–20).
The scribes and Pharisees had a complex and involved set of religious traditions which they regarded as having great value before God. But all those traditions were external, superficial, and unstable. They had no spiritual or moral substance or stability. They were shifting sand, composed entirely of the opinions, speculations, and standards of men. Those who created and followed them took no account of obedience to God’s Word, purity of the heart, spirituality of the soul, or integrity of behavior. Their only concern was for appearance, the compelling desire to be seen and “honored by men” (Matt. 6:2).
As Arthur Pink says of such people,
They bring their bodies to the house of prayer but not their souls; they worship with their mouths, but not “in spirit and in truth.” They are sticklers for immersion or early morning communion, yet take no thought about keeping their hearts with all diligence. They boast of their orthodoxy; but disregard the precepts of Christ. Multitudes of professing Christians abstain from external acts of violence, yet hesitate not to rob their neighbors of a good name by spreading evil reports against them. They contribute regularly to the “pastor’s salary,” but shrink not from misrepresenting their goods and cheating their customers, persuading themselves that “business is business.” They have more regard for the laws of man than those of God, for His fear is not before their eyes.
But the wise man builds his house upon a rock, and I believe the rock spoken of here is God’s Word—these words of Mine. This builder is one who hears Jesus’ words … and acts on them. Building on the rock is equivalent to obeying God’s Word.
After Peter confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus said, “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church” (Matt. 16:16–18). This “rock” (petra) is the same rock as that in Matthew 7:24–25. It is the bedrock of God’s Word, His divine revelation. It is the divine revelation such as was given to Peter by the “Father who is heaven,” and is the only rock on which the Christian life can be built.
The mark of true discipleship is not simply hearing and believing, but believing and doing. The true disciples of Jesus Christ, the only true converts of the gospel, are those who are “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (James 1:22–24). In other words, a person who professes to know Christ but does not obey Christ, has no lasting image of what the new life is all about. He glimpses Christ, and glimpses what Christ can do for him, but his image of Christ and of the new life in Christ soon fade. His experience with the gospel is shallow, superficial, and short-lived.
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments,” John declares. “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:3–6). Paul powerfully and convincingly asserts the same thing: “To those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:15–16).
To profess knowledge of God and His truth but not follow God obediently and live His truth is to be deceived. It is to have entered by the wide gate and to be walking on the broad way that leads to destruction. It is to have a house built upon the sand.
The only validation we can ever have of salvation is a life of obedience. That is the only proof Scripture mentions of our being under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Obedience is the sine qua non of salvation.
The house built on the rock is the life of obedience, the life Jesus has been explaining throughout the Sermon on the Mount. It is the life that has a scriptural view of itself, as described in the Beatitudes. It is the life that has a scriptural view of the world, and sees itself as God’s means for preserving and enlightening the world while not being a part of it. It is the life that has the divine view of Scripture and that determines not to alter God’s Word in the slightest degree. It is a life that is concerned about internal righteousness rather than external form. It is a life that has a godly attitude toward what is said and what is done, toward motives, things, money, and other people. It is a life of genuineness rather than hypocrisy, and of God’s righteousness rather than self-righteousness.
The house built on the rock is the life that empties itself of self-righteousness and pride, that is overwhelmed by and mourns over its own sin, that makes the maximum effort to enter the narrow gate and be faithful in the narrow way of Christ and His Word. Such a builder does not build his life or place his hope on ceremony, ritual, visions, experiences, feelings, or miracles but on the Word of God and that alone.
The sand is composed of human opinions, attitudes, and wills, which are always shifting and always unstable. To build on sand is to build on self-will, self-fulfillment, self-purpose, self-sufficiency, self-satisfaction, and self-righteousness. To build on sand is to be unteachable, to be “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).
To build the house of one’s life on the sand is to follow the ultimate deception of Satan, which is to make a person believe he is saved when he is not. Because that person is under the delusion that he is safe, he sees no reason either to resist Satan or to seek God.
Besides the great difference in the foundations they lay, the wise man builds his house the hard way, whereas the foolish man builds his the easy way. The one chooses the narrow gate and the other the broad. The one searches carefully for a solid foundation of rock on which to build; the other simply finds a section of sand in a desirable location and starts to build.
The easy way is attractive for several reasons, the first of which is that it is quick. The foolish person is always in a hurry. His first desire is to please himself, and he takes the shortest route to that end. In church work he wants the quick, easy solution, the one that causes the least controversy and hassle, with no consideration of how the solution may square with Scripture. He is for easy evangelism, easy believism, and easy discipleship, because they bring quick results that are simple to see and measure. He has no time for searching the Word for the right truth with which to witness, or for soul-searching or sound conviction. He sees a verbal profession, a card signed, or a prayer prayed as sufficient to bring a person to Christ. He is perfectly willing to declare a person saved without his having any awareness that he is lost.
The foolish person also likes the easy way because he is basically superficial. That which is superficial requires little planning, little effort, little care to detail, and little concern for quality or standards. The person who is superficial looks for what is pleasing rather than for what is right, for what is enjoyable rather than for what is true, for what satisfies himself rather than what satisfies God. He looks to Christianity for instant results, instant pleasure, and instant rewards. He cares much about spiritual “highs” but nothing about spiritual “depths.”
Of his own day Charles Spurgeon wrote,
Want of depth, want of sincerity, want of zeal in religion—this is the want of our times. Want of an eye to God in religion, lack of sincere dealing with one’s soul, neglect of using the lancet with our hearts, neglect of the search warrant which God gives out against sin, carelessness concerning living upon Christ; much reading about Him, much talking about Him, but too little feeding on His flesh and drinking of His blood—these are the causes of a tottering profession and a baseless hope. (Cited by Pink in An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974], p. 423)
In His parable of the sower Jesus spoke of the person who “hears the word, and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matt. 13:20–21). He receives quickly and falls away quickly. He likes God’s promises but not His requirements.
The foolish man always has excuses when Jesus makes demands on his life. When he first hears the gospel he says to the Lord, “I will follow You wherever You go.” But when he hears, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” he suddenly remembers that he has to bury his father (that is, await his father’s death in order to receive the inheritance) or “say good-bye to those at home.” Such a person who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back, Jesus says, is “not fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57–62).
The rain, the floods, and the winds do not represent specific types of physical judgment but simply sum up God’s final judgment. The storm is the ultimate test that the house of every human life will face. As the angel of death in Egypt passed by the blood-sprinkled homes of Israel’s children while slaughtering all the first-born in the rest, so the same judgment that harmlessly passes over the house that is founded upon the rock of Christ and His Word will utterly destroy the one that is built … upon the sand—which is anything other than Christ and His Word.
Whether one’s religion is true or false, one day it is going to be tried. And that trial will prove with absolute finality what is wheat and what is chaff, who are sheep and who are goats, who have entered by the narrow gate to walk the narrow way and who have entered by the wide gate to walk the broad way.
Those whose houses are on the rock of Jesus Christ and His Word will be delivered “from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10), and will only have praise from God, says Paul (1 Cor. 4:5). That wrath is ultimately poured out at the judgment at the great white throne, which John describes in Revelation 20. “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.… And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (vv. 12, 15).
The only difference about the storm in regard to the wise and the foolish men is in the way it affects their houses. The house of the wise man may have been shaken, yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.
But when the same adversity came upon the house of the foolish man it disintegrated—and great was its fall. It was utterly demolished, leaving its builder with absolutely nothing. That is the destiny of those who build on the sand of man’s ideas, man’s philosophies, and man’s religions. It is not that such people will have little left, but nothing left. Their way is not an inferior way to God, but no way to God at all. Always and inevitably it leads to destruction; its absolute destiny is to fall.
The greatest problem in evangelism is not follow-up but conversion. Right follow-up is not nearly so difficult as right conversion. Follow-up is the hardest when conversion is the easiest, because easy conversion is frequently no conversion. It results from seed falling on rocky soil, where it springs up quickly and dies just as quickly. The unconverted are indeed hard to follow up, whereas those who have truly come to Christ are eager to learn from His Word and associate with His people.
I heard of a large church that one year claimed 28,000 conversions, 9,600 baptisms, and 123 additions to the church! After reflecting on those figures, one of the church staff members decided that something was terribly wrong and decided to minister elsewhere. It is quite impossible that so many true conversions would produce so few Christians who would want to identify with their new brothers and sisters in the Lord.
The wise man builds carefully, because there is substance and great importance to what he is building. In the parallel passage in Luke, Jesus says, he “dug deep and laid a foundation upon the rock” (6:48). He is not satisfied with superficial confessions of faith, with quickie conversions that involve no repentance, no mourning over sin, and no despairing of self.
Knowing that he owes everything to the Lord, this man desires to give Him his maximum effort. After he does everything his Lord commands he declares that he has only done his duty (Luke 17:10). Yet he does not consider his work for the Lord burdensome. For one thing, the work we truly do for the Lord is the work He does through us. For another, the work that is truly done for the Lord is done out of love, not out of compulsion or fear. As the anonymous writer of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” says, the Lord promises this man:
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!
The most tragic difference between the builders is in their final destinies. Jesus’ unequaled and unparalleled sermon masterpiece ends with a devastating warning of judgment. Its final words are: and great was its fall. The bottom line of the gospel for those who reject Christ is not that they forfeit a great deal of blessing or even that they forfeit a life of eternal bliss with God in heaven—though those things are absolutely true. The bottom line for those who reject Christ is that they are destined for everlasting torment, destruction that keeps on destroying forever. To reject Christ is to look forward to being “cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:47–48). Because of this inevitability every professing Christian needs to hear the words of the Holy Spirit through James: “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). As we learn from Proverbs, “There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, yet is not washed from his filthiness” (30:12).
The House on the Rock
We come now to the last words of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus Christ pictures the difference between those who hear his teachings and do them and those who hear his teachings and do not do them. He draws a picture we all know, a picture of a wise man, who builds his house upon a rock, and of a foolish man, who builds his house upon sand. Most of us have sung about this, in one hymn or another, since we were children.
Basically, it is a matter of foundations. Let me illustrate the importance of having a firm foundation for a building by means of this contrast. Toward the end of one summer, after having spent several months in Europe, I returned to the United States on a student ship that sailed to New York from Rotterdam. I thought when I boarded that it was probably the smallest ship allowed on the ocean. Perhaps I was right, for it was certainly slow and very light in high seas. We boarded it at night, and the next morning we were sure we could still see Holland. By the end of the third or fourth day we were just passing Land’s End, England. All in all, the crossing took nine days.
The difficulty, however, was not only the length of time. The hurricane season had arrived, and a number of storms had managed to churn up the ocean midway between England and Newfoundland. We arrived at New York harbor after days of tossing about like a cork in a bathtub, and our first calm was the calm we felt as we entered the harbor in the middle of the night. Because I did not want to miss seeing the harbor, I spent most of the night on the deck, watching the ship slowly maneuver into place in the channel, drop anchor, and stop. Then I saw the gray spires of lower Manhattan emerge like mountains in the constantly brightening light of dawn. I thought how firm they appeared and what a contrast they were to the way I had been spending the last nine days.
One summer several years later, my family and I visited Venice, where we received a very contrasting impression about foundations. We arrived about 12:30 at night. Cruising along peacefully under the warm Italian night sky, we took a motor launch down the Grand Canal to the Piazza San Marco, where our hotel was located. Venice is like New York in some respects. They are both great ports. They are financial centers. But I knew, even as I gazed at the great Venetian buildings, that Venice was slowly sinking into the waters of the Adriatic sea. The difference between Venice and New York is that Venice has no foundations such as New York has.
That is a bit whimsical, perhaps, but it illustrates in vivid, contemporary terms what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says that a man builds a life the way designers build cities, and his point is that the factor that determines what will remain and what will not remain is the foundation. “Therefore,” he says, “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” (Matt. 7:24–27).
In these closing words of his sermon, Jesus stressed the importance of an adequate foundation. What is your foundation? On what do you build?
Christ Is the Rock
That is a most profound question, and it is a good one to come to at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. For, you see, it is quite possible for a man to have heard all Jesus’ teachings and to have said, “It is true. These are great sayings. They are the key to morality. I’ll just go out and try a bit harder.” But if you are thinking that way, you have missed the whole point of what Jesus is saying. He says, “I am not asking you to go out and try harder. You will never be able to do it. To go out and try harder and to try to construct that kind of character in your own strength is like trying to build a mansion upon sand. Actually, you will only achieve that kind of character when you build on me.”
This is really the first and most important point of these verses. Jesus Christ is the foundation. He is the rock. I know, of course, that not all Scripture passages that use the word “rock” or “foundation” imply this, but certainly it is the only true sense in this passage. It is true that in 1 Timothy 6:17–19, Paul speaks of works as a good foundation; “Command those who are rich in this present world … to do good … In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age” (1 Tim. 6:19). But these are exceptions, and for each of these texts there are many more which apply the same imagery to Jesus himself or (in the Old Testament) to the Messiah.
Thus, Isaiah writes, “So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation’ ” (Isa. 28:16). Paul writes, “[you are] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Shortly after the Resurrection Peter told the Sanhedrim, the highest court of the Jews, “He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone’ ” (Acts 4:11). He wrote in his first letter, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame. Now to you who believe, this stone is precious” (1 Peter 2:6–7).
That is the true sense of Christ’s teaching. He is saying, “If you want a construction that will last for this life and for eternity, build on me.” Are you doing it? If so you can sing:
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.
Christianity is Jesus Christ. Thus, the life of blessing promised by Christianity must be constructed on him.
The House Will Stand
The second important point to be seen in these verses is this: A life built upon Jesus Christ will stand. That is a simple point, of course, but we need to have it clear in our thinking and to get it planted deeply in our minds. A life built upon Jesus Christ will stand. It will stand even in the midst of the tribulations of this life or the judgments of eternity.
We are going to have tribulations. They are the common lot of man, but only the Christian who is building upon Christ and whose mind is captive to the will of God can triumph over them gloriously (Rom. 5:3). In the Book of Job there is a passage in which one of Job’s comforters says, “For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6–7). The image is highly poetic. It tells us that each generation of men can be compared to a stack of cordwood that is placed upon the burning embers of the past. That is our destiny, to pass through fire and in due time to be released forever. Every child of Adam—you and I and countless millions of others—will experience sorrow, pain, suffering, disappointment, and eventually death.
What is the solution? Not escape certainly, for escape is impossible. The solution is to build upon a sure foundation. So Jesus says that although the rains will fall, the floods will rise, and the wind will blow, the life that is constructed upon him will survive.
That is true. It was true for Job. It was true for Moses and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and all the other great Old Testament figures. It was true for Peter, James, John, and Paul.
Let me give you a more contemporary illustration. Dr. Joseph Parker, a noted English preacher, who for many years proclaimed the Word of God in the great City Temple of London, tells in his autobiography that there was a time when he gave too much attention to the modern theories of his day. Men were undervaluing the Word of God, and he found himself, as he read their books and mingled in their meetings, losing his grip upon the great fundamental doctrine of salvation through the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. At this point there came into his life a great sorrow. His wife, whom he loved deeply, became sick and died within a few hours. He was unable to share his grief with others, and walking through the empty rooms of his home with a breaking heart, he felt for some footing in the theories of his day and found none. “And then,” he said, addressing a company of his Congregational brethren, “my brethren, in those hours of darkness, in those hours of my soul’s anguish, when filled with doubt and trembling in fear, I bethought myself of the old gospel of redemption alone through the blood of Christ, the gospel that I had preached in those earlier days, and I put my foot down on that, and, my brethren, I found firm standing. I stand there today, and I shall die resting upon that blessed glorious truth of salvation alone through the precious blood of Christ.”
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Precious Stones or Stubble
There is one last point here, and it is a point for Christians. What are you building, Christian? Oh, you are on the foundation all right. Christ is your Savior. But do you know that it is possible for him to be your foundation and yet for you to go through life building things that are worthless and will not remain as fruit for eternity even though you will be saved personally? Listen to Paul, “If any man builds on this foundation [Jesus Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:12–15).
I believe that there are really only two mistakes that a person can make here in regard to Christ’s teaching. There is the error which says, “I need no foundation at all; I’ll just drift.” Many people are drifting today, especially the young. But the trouble with drifting is that you go downstream. Water always flows downstream. You can never drift into happiness. A drifter needs a foundation.
There is also the error which, I suppose, is more generally committed by the older generation today. They say, “Yes, we all must build upon a firm foundation,” but they do not see that it is possible to build wrongly upon the foundation. Thus, they do not enjoy true happiness or security either.
What are you building? The precious things of God? Or things that may dazzle now but will soon pass away into nothing? If it is the latter, you may find yourself on the day of judgment in the ridiculous position of Ozymandias, that legendary Persian king about whom Shelley wrote a poem. According to Shelley, the great statue of Ozymandias lay prone in the desert in the midst of thousands of square miles of rolling sand. The inscription said, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
What are you building upon the foundation that is given you by God? Are you living for yourself? It is entirely possible for Christians to do that. Or are you living for him?
Quite a few years ago William Borden went to Yale University as an undergraduate and afterward became a missionary candidate planning to work in China. When he made his decision to invest his life in this service, many of his friends thought him foolish. He had come from a good family. He had wealth and influence. “Why are you going to throw away your life in some foreign country,” they asked, “when you can have such an enjoyable and worthwhile life here?” But William Borden of Yale had heard the call of God. While in Egypt, on the way to China and even before he had much of a chance to do anything, he became sick. Soon it was evident to everyone including himself that he would die. At this point Borden could have said to himself, “What a waste. My friends were right. I could have stayed in New Haven.” But Borden did not think this way. As he lay on his death bed in Egypt, he scribbled a farewell note to his friends that was in some sense his epitaph. The note said, “No reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.”
How could Borden of Yale write such a statement? Simply because he had learned to build upon a firm foundation. And he was prepared, as we all should be prepared, to pass confidently into Christ’s presence and to hear his warm welcome: “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt 25:21, 23).
Matthew 7:24. Every one, therefore, who heareth. As it is often difficult to distinguish the true professors of the Gospel from the false, Christ shows, by a beautiful comparison, where the main difference lies. He represents two houses, one of which was built without a foundation, while the other was well-founded. Both have the same external appearance: but, when the wind and storms blow, and the floods dash against them, the former will immediately fall, while the latter will be sustained by its strength against every assault. Christ therefore compares a vain and empty profession of the Gospel to a beautiful, but not solid, building, which, however elevated, is exposed every moment to downfall, because it wants a foundation. Accordingly, Paul enjoins us to be well and thoroughly founded on Christ, and to have deep roots, (Col. 2:7,) “that we may not be tossed and driven about by every wind of doctrine,” (Eph. 4:14,) that we may not give way at every attack. The general meaning of the passage is, that true piety is not fully distinguished from its counterfeit, till it comes to the trial. For the temptations, by which we are tried, are like billows and storms, which easily overwhelm unsteady minds, whose lightness is not perceived during the season of prosperity.
Who heareth these sayings. The relative these denotes not one class of sayings, but the whole amount of doctrine. He means, that the Gospel, if it be not deeply rooted in the mind, is like a wall, which has been raised to a great height, but does not rest on any foundation. “That faith (he says) is true, which has its roots deep in the heart, and rests on an earnest and steady affection as its foundation, that it may not give way to temptations.” For such is the vanity of the human mind, that all build upon the sand, who do not dig so deep as to deny themselves.
Two House Builders: Hearing and Doing (7:24–27)
The parallel sermon in Luke 6:20–49 ends with a version of this same parable, which is similar in content but almost as different in wording and in the way the story is constructed as it would be possible to be while relating the same teaching. This powerful image was apparently reshaped, perhaps several times, but retained its function as the striking conclusion to a challenging discourse which has left Jesus’ hearers with a simple but demanding choice: to hear and ignore, or to hear and put into practice.29 It is a make-or-break choice with eternal consequences. And as we noted in v. 21, it is Jesus himself who is the key to this choice; it is his words (and not, as one might have expected, God’s words) which must be done. Indeed to do Jesus’ words here seems to be the equivalent of “doing the will of my Father in heaven” in v. 21. To ignore his words therefore will result in total spiritual disaster.
Unlike the image of the two roads in vv. 13–14, this parable does not draw a line simply between outsiders and insiders. Both men represent people who have “heard” Jesus’ teaching. In terms of the narrative setting we must remember the surrounding crowds of 5:1, whom we shall find in v. 28 to be there listening apparently on the fringe of the disciple group to whom the discourse is specifically addressed—though of course any of the inner circle of “real” disciples who fail to take up the challenge of this teaching must stand similarly at risk. In terms of Matthew’s church we are no doubt to envisage a typically mixed gathering such as we shall find depicted in 13:24–30, in which not all who hear are equally ready to respond. But to be there in the audience is no more guarantee of salvation than to have called Jesus “Lord! Lord!” and performed miracles in his name. It all comes down to “doing” what Jesus has now set out before them. The alternative is, in the imagery of the parable, total collapse.
The parable itself is simple and self-explanatory in a country where heavy rain can send flash floods surging down the normally dry wadis with devastating effect. For the contrast between “sensible” and “foolish” cf. 25:1–12. No particular building-site or type of construction need be specified, though a mud-brick house such as was envisaged also in 6:19 would be particularly susceptible to the effects of flooding. The point is not, as in 1 Cor 3:10–15, the suitability of the building material, but the solidity of the foundation. Cf. Isaiah’s image of the firm foundation-stone which provides the only security when the floods sweep through (Isa 28:15–19), the foundations washed away by a flood in Job 22:16, and the wall which collapses under the pressure of the elements in Ezek 13:10–16 (where the target of the imagery is the false prophets who proclaim peace when there is no peace). The importance of a solid rock foundation will be echoed in 16:18, where again the resultant building will remain secure against all threats. The total collapse of the badly-founded house probably suggests that, as in vv. 21–23, the final judgment is particularly in view, but that setting is not emphasized, and the imagery applies equally to the testing which discipleship will repeatedly encounter before the final consummation.
Ver. 24.—Therefore whosoever heareth; Revised Version, every one therefore which heareth (πᾶς οὖν ὅστις ἀκούει, ch. 10:32). The relative used lays stress on the quality implied in the verb: every one who is of the kind that hears (contrast ver. 26). These sayings (Revised Version, words) of mine, and doeth them. Not the individual utterances (ῥήματα, John 6:63), nor the substance of my message considered as a whole (λόγον, ch.  20), but the substance of its parts, the various truths that I announce (λόγους). I will liken him; Revised Version, shall be likened, with the manuscripts. Not shall, in fact, be made like, ch. 6:8 (Weiss), but shall be likened in figure and parable. Unto a wise man. Prudent, sensible (φρόνιμος). Which built his house upon a rock; Revised Version, the rock. Which in not a few cases may be found at no great distance from the surface.
Ver. 25.—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 (Revised Version, the) rock. The stages of the tempest are expressed more vividly than in St. Luke.
Vers. 26, 27.—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. In the Plain of Sharon the clay seems to have been so inferior that not only were the jars made of it often worthless, but the bricks could offer so little resistance to the weather that the houses were hardly safe. Hence a special prayer was offered by the high priest on the Day of Atonement that the Lord would grant that their houses might not become their tombs (Talm. Jer., ‘Yoma,’ v. 2 [Schwab, p. 218]; cf. Neubauer, ‘Geograph.,’ p. 48). In the parable, however, it is not the structure, but the foundation, that is wrong. The sand may refer, as Stanley suggests (‘Sinai and Palestine,’ ch. xiii. p. 430), to one locality, in which case it is probably “the long sandy strip of land which bounds the eastern plain of Acre, and through which the Kishon flows into the sea;” or, as would seem more probable, to the sand which would naturally be found on the edges of such a torrent as is here described. Beat upon; smote upon (Revised Version). In ver. 25 the thought is more of the swoop of the tempest (προσέπεσαν); here, of its impact on the house (προσέκοψαν). It is possible that there is here less indication of force necessary for the destruction. “It needed only the first blow, and the house fell” (Weiss, ‘Matthäus-cv.’). And great was the fall of it. Our Lord’s solemn verdict of the utter ruin awaiting him who does not put his assent into action. The clause conveys an impression even stronger than ver. 23. There the positive worker of lawlessness is banished from Christ’s presence; here, on the mere non-worker of Divine messages received is pronounced ruin and (for such, at least, seems suggested) that irremediable.
24–27. Everyone then who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice will be like a sensible man, who built his house on rock. Down poured the rain, and there came the floods, while the winds blew and fell upon that house, but it did not fall, for it was founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice will be like a foolish man, who built his house on sand. Down poured the rain and there came the floods, while the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and the crash it produced was tremendous.
Both of the men mentioned in this parable are builders, for to live means to build. Every ambition a man cherishes, every thought he conceives, every word he speaks, and every deed he performs is, as it were, a building block. Gradually the structure of his life rises. Not all builders are the same, however. Some are sensible, some foolish.
Jesus speaks first about the manner in which the sensible man built his house, namely, on rock; secondly, about the test to which this house was subjected; and thirdly, about the result of this test and the reason for this result. He follows the same sequence with respect to the foolish man and the house he built. It is worthy of note that there are only two kinds of builders, not three, four, or five; and that these two form a striking contrast. The Lord is constantly dividing men into two classes. So also in 6:22, 23; 7:13, 14; 7:17, 18; 10:39; 13:11, 12, 14–16, 19–23 (good soil versus soil that is not good, though for various reasons), 24–30, 36–42; 47–50; 22:1–14; 25:2, to mention some of the more striking examples.
Nevertheless, though the two builders differ strikingly, on the surface they have much in common. Each builds a house. The “houses” of which Jesus speaks were not constructed as sturdily as many a present day strict building code would require. Thieves were able to dig through the walls (6:19). The roof, of earth and grass, could easily be “opened up” (Mark 2:4; cf. Ps. 129:6). Everything therefore depended on the foundation! Now the two builders also have this in common that both erect their house in a valley containing the bed of a water-course. During the dry season this bed is dry or nearly so, with the result that there is no harm to either house. So far so good.—Is it not true that also among people, including those who were listening to Christ’s discourse or those who today read it, there is much surface resemblance?
Essentially, however, how radical is the contrast between the two builders! The first builder is sensible. He has foresight. He figures with the fact that the dry season will not last. Soon the sky will become dark and the black winged legions of the storm will arrive. His house will be deluged by the rains, battered by the winds, and, unless precautionary measures are taken, will be washed away by the rising, swirling tide. So he provides for this imminent peril. Before constructing his house he removes the loose gravel, digging down to rock bottom (cf. Luke 6:48). Then he lays a foundation on rock.—The foolish man does nothing of the kind. He erects his house on the loose gravel, as if bright and sunny days will never cease.
In his explanation of the parable Jesus points out that the figurative meaning of the foundation is “these words of mine,” that is, this entire Sermon on the Mount, and, by an extension of the figure, all the words that proceed out of my mouth and are directed to men. Since by means of what he says and commands he reveals his own heart, his very being, it is certainly also correct to say that, as far as the interpretation or spiritual meaning of the parable is concerned, Christ himself is the Rock (Isa. 28:16, cf. 1 Peter 2:6; Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 3:11; 10:4). What is said about God as the believers’ Rock (Deut. 32:15, 18; Ps. 18:2; 89:26; and Isa. 17:10) is also applicable to Christ. See N.T.C. on Ephesians, p. 190. According to the teaching of Jesus here in verse 24 (cf. verse 26) building one’s house on rock means not only listening to the Lord but, out of gratititude for salvation received (certainly implied in 5:1–16), putting his commands into practice. By the grace of God the sensible man does this; the foolish man, trusting in self and refusing to think about the future, does not. He is a hearer but not a doer. He follows the promptings of his own sinful will.
The day of testing arrives. It comes for both houses. Down pours the rain, on and against the house, certainly on top of the roof. It is one of those terrific storms which in this region the sudden winds bring up from the Mediterranean. There is cloudburst upon cloudburst. As a result the bed of the water-course is dry no longer. It begins to fill with water, first a brook, shallow and sluggish; then a torrent, deep, swift, and furious, threatening the very supports of the walls, whatever it is on which the house stands. And all the while the western gale pommels and pounds against the top and the walls, particularly the latter.
So also for every hearer of the gospel, whether he be sensible or foolish, the test or crisis is surely coming. It comes in various forms: trial (Gen. 22:1; book of Job), temptation (Gen. 39:7–18; Matt. 26:69–75), bereavement (Gen. 42:36; Job 1:18–22; Luke 7:11–17; John 11:1 ff.), death (Acts 7:59, 60; 9:37), and in the present context (note verse 22: “in that day”) especially the judgment day. Its coming cannot be prevented. Often it arrives with dramatic suddenness (Matt. 24:43; 25:6; 1 Thess. 5:2).
What is the outcome of this test? The sensible man’s house did not fall. Note the play on words: “the winds … fell upon that house, but it fell not.” The swirling waters that threatened it were not even able to shake it (Luke 6:48). It braved the tumultous cloudbursts. It withstood the enormous force of the onrushing flood. It defied every furious blast. When the force of the storm was completely spent, there stood that house, none the worse for the elements of nature that had raged against it. Reason: it had been built on rock!
On the other hand, it took hardly any effort for the angry floods to undermine the walls of the other house and to carry away the very sand or gravel on which it had been erected. Moreover, the rain and the wind easily finished whatever was left undone by the tide. All the wind had to do was give the tottering structure a little push. Then, with a tremendous crash, it fell into the water and was washed away, pieces of wreckage strewn about everywhere. Its ruin was complete.
The sensible man, who shows by his very deeds that he has taken to heart the words of Christ, and is therefore building upon the Rock, will never be put to shame. See p. 345. Even the day of judgment will be for him a day of triumph (1 Thess. 2:19, 20; 3:13; 4:16, 17; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:8; Titus 2:13, 14):
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
Stanza from “How Firm a Foundatin,” by “K” in John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787.
The theory that Jesus here teaches the doctrine of works as the means whereby salvation is achieved is certainly wrong, for the very point of the parable is that the foundation of man’s everlasting weal is not to be sought in man but in Christ and his utterances, as has been shown. It is upon that foundation that man must build his life, including his hope for eternity.
The ruin in store for those who are building on sand is described at the very close of the sermon, probably in order all the more to impress upon the listeners and on those who afterward would be brought into contact with this earnest message that their reaction to these words of the Lord has significance for all eternity. In reality, therefore, the announcement of the unbelievers’ tragic end is a manifestation of Christ’s mercy, an implied serious invitation to repent (cf. 4:17), extended to all who are still living in the day of grace.
 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (pp. 264–268). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 369–370). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.