Beyond Right Beliefs (Matthew 7:24-29)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Matthew 7:24–7:29
Beyond Right Beliefs
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
July 28th, 2019
I. Counterfeit Christianity
Did you know that according to a Barna survey taken just over two years ago* 93% of Americans believe Jesus was “a real person who actually lived”? But there's more: did you know that 63% of those surveyed said “they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ that's still important in their lives today”. Interesting, right? But wait... there's even more. Of those who believe Jesus was real, the number of those who affirmed that he was God in the flesh was 43%; and only 31% said he was uniquely called to reveal God's purpose in the world. Now combine that with the fact that three-quarters of Americans still identify in some way as 'Christian', and we're presented with a very interesting picture.
That picture is not dissimilar from what we saw the last time when we studied Matthew chapter 7. You may remember that chapter contains warnings from Jesus, warnings about deception, about delusion, about accepting a counterfeit discipleship; something that looks like the light, but is in reality, spiritual darkness. As Jesus made clear in verses 13 and 14, in this life, there are truly only two paths, one leading to life, the other to destruction.
Now, some may feel confident in their ability to distinguish between these two roads. But as Jesus indicated in verses 15-20, there are prophets on that path of destruction, prophets who 'talk the talk' when it comes to Jesus, but who do not 'walk the walk'. This is why there will be some who, according to verses 21-23, will say “Lord, Lord” when they stand before Jesus in the end, but who will ultimately be condemned as impostors.
Two kinds of paths. Two kinds of prophets. Two kinds of professions of faith. This is what we wrestled with last time. But we will see this morning that as Jesus wraps up his 'mountain message', he has one more comparison to share with his listeners, one more warning to issue, one more call to discernment. If you haven't already, turn over to Matthew 7.
II. The Passage: "Like a Wise Man" (7:24-29)
Now, the closing verses of Matthew 7 include a final bit of teaching from Jesus in verses 24-27, and a final note in verses 28 and 29 from the writer about both those teachings and the Teacher himself.
What I'd like us to see in the final six verses of this section is how Jesus and Matthew (the Gospel writer) are calling us to think very, very carefully about how we should respond to these teachings, to the entire 'mountain message' of Jesus; to the light given to us through Christ. For example, I believe the main thrust of what Jesus is saying in verses 24-27 is that, in light of this 'mountain message', our goal should be...
1. Living, Not Simply Listening (vs. 24, 26)
According to 5:1, both the crowds and his disciples were present when he shared this message. This is confirmed by 7:28. With that audience in mind, Jesus points out for them (and for us) a right response to his words. Verse 24...
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
What do we learn here? We learn that the instruction of Jesus Christ is for living, not simply listening. It is not enough to hear and say, “good to know”. It is not enough to simply discuss these teachings, or write about these teachings, or post a beautifully designed image of these verses on Instagram. The guidance of Jesus does us no good unless we follow it. As one commentator expressed it, “The teaching of The Sermon on the Mount is not meant to be admired, but to be obeyed.” (R.T. France)
Why obey the teachings contained in Matthew chapters 5-7? Because they are like a firm foundation on which a person can build his or her life. Do you want that? That's what the house represents in this parable about the two builders. But before we unpack that parable any further, let's make sure we're clear about what it means to not only hear, but to do the words of Jesus.
You may remember that the main block of ethical teaching in this 'mountain message' runs from 5:21, all the way to 7:12. That section includes teachings on the nitty-gritty of human existence: hate and anger, adultery and lust, revenge and retribution, prayer and human praise, money and greed (just to name a few). As we learned in 7:12, Jesus summarized the heart behind all this teaching in this way: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
So again, a teaching like “love your enemies” is not simply an idea to be heard, or discussed, or debated, or recommended to others. It is a command to be obeyed. Remember what Jesus taught in v. 21: who will “enter the kingdom of heaven”? The “one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”. And that “will” is exactly what Jesus has been revealing in this message. But this parable also points to the fact that genuine faith in Jesus is something...
2. Tested, Not Simply Taught (vs. 25, 27)
The parable Jesus gives us here in 7:24-27 is not simply about houses and how they are constructed. As we see, both in verses 25 and 27, the difference between these houses is revealed by a powerful storm. Rain. Floods. Wind. Just like our monsoon storms here in Arizona, the Middle East understands how fast a dry wash (or wadi) can turn into a raging river.
And in a place like that, if your house is built only on sand, if that builder cares more about everyday concerns than planning for the future, if that builder is not willing to invest the time and effort to lay a good foundation, then the life he or she has built will be undercut in that day when the storm rages. Remember who Jesus is speaking about here: the man or woman who listens to his words, but does not act on his words. Who hears him, but does not heed him.
But what about the storm? What does it represent? I think part of the answer to that question is found later in Matthew 13:20–22. Listen to this excerpt from the parable of the four soils...
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy,  yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.  As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
In this life, as we heard in those verses, things like persecution and greed can and do test the genuineness of a person's faith. The one who has not truly obeyed Jesus, but has merely said “Lord, Lord”, he or she will not stand when these kinds of storms beat down on them.
But we also need to remember that Jesus began this final section, this conclusion, talking about a path that leads to “destruction” (v. 13); about bad trees being “thrown into the fire” (v. 19); about those who will be cast out of His presence (v. 23). This parable of the two builders is no exception, in that it also speaks about the coming storm of God's judgment (language, BTW, borrowed from OT passages like Isaiah 30 and Ezekiel 13). Dr. Don Carson explains this well...
Those who pretend to have faith, who have a merely intellectual commitment, or who enjoy Jesus in small doses are foolish builders. When the storms of life come, their structures fool no one, above all not God.
Importantly, beyond these closing words of Christ, we discover that the Gospel writer also speaks to us about responding to Jesus. I think he wants us to be...
3. Bowed (Down), Not Simply 'Blown Away' (vs. 28-29)
Listen to the closing words, both of this chapter, and of this entire message. Verse 28...
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,  for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Hard to miss the crowds' reaction, right? Two words: they were “astonished” by his “authority”. But as the rest of Matthew's Gospel seems to confirm, while the crowds were routinely impressed by Jesus, the majority did not become disciples of Christ. They enjoyed the 'show', but would not take up the cross he prescribed.
You see, you can be moved by Jesus, you can be impressed with him, you can love him as a wise teacher and a loving leader and a social justice warrior, but in the end, never bow down before him. Many sing about Him, but few submit to him. Many will see movies about His life, but will not lay down their own for his sake. As we've talked about, many will study and even celebrate his words, but how many will do them?
But Matthew's emphasis is clear: Jesus spoke with an authority which was unfamiliar to the crowds. And yet, they did not recognize what that authority revealed about the One speaking. It's similar to our own country, where three-quarters claim to be Christian, but only 43% believe he was God in human flesh, and 31% believe he was uniquely called to reveal God's purpose in the world. But ultimately, no one will do his words if they are not first bowing before Him.
Think about it: this 'mountain message' reveals more than just a righteous path. It reveals a righteous Lord, who speaks authoritatively about real righteousness, and who will, one day, be a righteous judge, condemning unrighteous impostors. The wise builder is not simply a person who accepts the wisdom of Jesus' teaching. He or she does (not simply hears) the words of Christ because they recognize the greatness of Christ.
III. Your Spiritual Diagnosis
Brothers and sisters, do you hear the call of Christ in these verses? He is calling every single one of us to move beyond right beliefs to righteous living. Right beliefs can only benefit you when what you believe informs how you live. Do you believe that? And how we live cannot be based on a counterfeit kind of discipleship, one constructed around me-centered deeds wrapped in a thin veneer of spirituality. No, true discipleship mean following hard after Jesus. And where is Jesus going? Down that very path he just described for us in this 'mountain message'. James, the half-brother of Jesus would later repeat the same idea we find in v. 24...
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)
So the question you must leave with this morning is this: am I doing the words of Jesus... that is, am I truly living in light of the Sermon on the Mount? So... what does it mean to live in light of this 'mountain message'? It means...
1. Being comforted by the kingdom consolations of 5:3-10 and guided by the kingdom priority of 6:33. As Matthew 3 and 4 confirm, repentance is the first step in shifting our allegiance from self as supreme to Christ as King (chps. 1, 2). Doing Jesus' words also means...
2. Hungering for the exceeding righteousness of 5:20 and striving for the perfection of 5:48. Righteousness and perfection may sound like scandalous, even suspicious ideas, especially in our cynical age. But Jesus pointed us to an inside-out transformation that starts with the heart. The perfection he described is a wholeness that reflects God's own character. He loves, and loves all, because his heart is loving. He does good because he is good. Doing also means...
3. Living for the Father's pleasure (6:6) and trusting in the Father's provision (7:7). Chapter 6 is filled with these idea, and they all orbit around God's identity as Father. That radical reality of a redefined relationship with God should affect how we pray, how we give, how we forgive, and what we value.
Brothers and sisters, friends, what all of these ideas point us to is a glorious reality that wasn't initially clear to the first listeners of this 'mountain message'. You see, this message is a diagnosis before it's a prescription. It exposes our sinful allegiances. It confirms the corruption of our heart and our man-centered attempts at righteousness. And it points us to a relationship with God that seems impossible for rebels like us.
In short, it drives us from the early chapters of Matthew's Gospel to the closing chapters of Matthew's Gospel; that is, it drives us to the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. Only there do we find grace and forgiveness; only there do we find peace with God and power from God, that we might know him as Father, and live new lives as his children. It's the gospel, the word of what He did, that allows us to do his words. Do you believe? And if you do, are you truly following? Are you building your life on “the rock”? Let's pray and ask God to help us do just that.