It seems that almost weekly we are told of some prominent public figure who has failed morally. Politicians and preachers seem to be competing with each other for the prize of the week, which is usually that of becoming the subject of late-night comedians’ monologues. Often as we are told on our news media of the latest scandal, we are appalled (at least I am), not only at the sin committed, but its brazenness. How could they be so stupid? Well, perhaps it is because they were not building on the right foundation.
“So then, everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them is like a wise man, who built his house on the rock. And the rain came down and the rivers rose and the winds blew, and they smashed against that house and it didn’t fall, because its foundation was on the rock (24, 25).
And everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t do them is like a stupid man, who built his house on the sand. And the rain came down and the rivers rose and the winds blew, and they crashed against that house, and it fell! And what a big collapse! (26, 27)
And so it was when Jesus completed these words the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He was teaching them as One Who had authority and not as their scribes” (28, 29).
Jesus has come to the final words of His Sermon on the Mount. As He draws nearer and nearer to the conclusion, we can almost feel the intensity increasing. He keeps confronting His hearers with choices that they must make, expressed by various sets of twos: two gates, two roads, two destinations, two trees, two fruits. In this paragraph He presents a final pair from which His hearers must choose. The choice here is the foundation on which one builds: the rock or the sand.
Some will argue over whether this should be called a parable or not; I would call it one. A parable is simply an extended simile or an extended metaphor. In this case, it is an extended simile, a comparison of two unlike things which have something in common. Notice the word “like.”
Not every detail in a parable has meaning so we should be careful not to let our imaginations run wild. This parable seems clear. There are two builders: a wise man and a stupid man and two foundations: rock and sand. These also correspond with the previously mentioned sets of two.
The houses of the two builders are not compared. We are left to assume that the differences are not in their construction or materials. Perhaps they were both expert craftsmen and used only the best materials. Nor are we told what the houses represent. Perhaps they represent one’s present life. Very possibly they represent the ministry of the prophets or teachers, if Jesus is continuing the warnings of 7:15-23. Paul used similar metaphors in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, speaking of one’s life and ministry.
Jesus gives a pretty clear explanation of who the builders are. The other elements of the parable are less clear. From other passages we find that Jesus is often referred to as the Rock, or Stone (21:42; Acts 4:11). And we may want to use that same interpretation here. But the implication here is that the Rock represents Jesus’ “words” or His sayings, and He is probably implying that it especially is the words He has just been speaking, i.e., this Sermon.
It is not simply that these are wise words, good advice to follow. Jesus doesn’t simply say “My words,” but “these words of Mine,” which gives them special emphasis.
The concluding comment by Matthew (verses 28 and 29), though it follows a set formula (see 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1), also tells us something about Jesus’ words. He tells us not only what the crowds' reaction was, but why they reacted the way they did. “He was teaching them with authority.” They had undoubtedly heard some good teaching before, even some that was based on the authoritative Scriptures of the Old Testament, but Jesus’ teachings were inherently authoritative. His authority’s derivation was directly from the Father (Matthew 28:18).
Jesus doesn’t tell what the sand represents. I suppose that the implication is that it is anything that is not the rock (1 Corinthians 3:11).
As far as the rain, the floods and the wind, we are not told what they represent. They are the same for both houses. We may think of them as everyday trials and the hardships of life, but in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, they sometimes represent trials sent by God to reveal and judge the actuality of one’s life or speech. In Ezekiel 13:9-16, the false prophets of Ezekiel’s day were told that “flooding rain and hailstones” would destroy the wall that they had built. The parallel is not exact; there the destruction was due to faulty construction, while here it is due to building on the wrong foundation.
The warning is broad enough here to cover both groups in Jesus’ audience: His disciples and the crowds. And it has that same application today. There is a warning here, both for believers and unbelievers, as well as an assurance for believers.
To withstand the vicissitudes of life we must build on the only foundation, Jesus Christ and His Word. Anything else is bound for failure. We may build a beautiful structure – a “successful” life, a successful ministry, but neither has permanence without Jesus.
It would be oversimplifying to simply say, “build your life on Jesus and His Word and everything will turn out – you’ll have a great success in your business, your family, your ministry, whatever”, but that seems to be the implication. To not do so would definitely be to fail. And we need to remember that God’s ruler for measuring success is different from ours.