Twentieth Sunday after Trinity October 25, 1998
433, 466, 370, 467
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And Jesus said, “Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Here ends our text.
In the name of Jesus, our Rock and our solid Foundation, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Do you know what the Rock of Gibraltar looks like? You might think you don’t, but I’d guess that everyone here has seen it’s picture hundreds of times. That’s because the Rock of Gibraltar is used as a trademark by the Prudential Insurance Company. They identify with it, because it conjures up the ideas of soundness and security. For centuries, the Rock of Gibraltar has served as an impregnable military fortress. Strategically located just off the southern tip of Spain, this massive rock juts skyward some 1300 feet, and guards the narrow entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. Back in the days when an army’s artillery consisted of arrows and cannonballs, anyone on top of this rock was obviously safe from attack.
The Prudential company tries to capitalize on this by implying that owning one of their policies is like owning a piece of this legendary rock. The television commercials are quite to the point. Commonly, two men are depicted at the scene of an accident. They are shown standing at adjacent phone booths talking with their respective insurance agents. The one, of course, heaves a sigh of relief because he “owns a piece of the rock.” The other man hangs his head in grief because his insurance firm won’t stand behind him in a crisis. When the short TV spot winds to a close, the company hopes that you, the viewer, will say to yourself: I, too, should own a piece of the rock!
In the text before us this morning, the Lord Jesus tells of two men who, in a way, are insured under different policies. He too draws a comparison of how each one fares in the moment of need. One policy pays off with great dividends, and the other cannot offer the slightest bit of help. As we today explore the meaning of this picture, we hear Jesus urging us to build on the Rock. And that’s our theme:
The parable Jesus tells today comes as a concluding word to His Sermon on the Mount. To cap off His message, He talks about two men who went out to build houses for themselves. The one builds on a stable rock foundation; the other on sand.
Both men were actually interested in the same thing. They wanted to set themselves up in a house. But they didn’t go about their construction in the same way. Each chose a different building site. The one is called wise, the other a fool.
The houses were both put to the test. The rains came down. The winds beat against them. The floods began to swirl about them. The storm let loose with all its might against the structures that had been put together. The one stands solid; the other begins to falter, weakens at the joints, and finally collapses into a heap of rubble. Notice that the difference is not in the houses. Not in the builders. Not even in the circumstances they faced. The only essential difference was the ground on which they stood—sand, or solid rock.
Jesus uses this brief story to illustrate the way different people react to the preaching of God’s Word. The wise man stands for the person who hears the Word of salvation in Christ and relies on that as the very foundation of his life. The fool is the one who builds his life on something other than the Savior. Again, the difference isn’t in people themselves, and the difference isn’t in the conditions they face in life. The difference is in what their lives are founded on—rock or sand. The one is the immovable substance of God’s grace; and the other is the shifting sand of human efforts. The wise man Jesus referred to had heard the Gospel and applied it to his life; the other felt that he could get along just as well without it. That is the gist of Jesus’ short but pointed parable.
So what’s it all have to do with you and me? What is the compelling message for us? How does this business of house-building apply in our lives? Well, consciously or unconsciously, whether you are young or old, male or female, married or single, your life is the house you are building. That ancient parable is as contemporary as you are. No matter how long ago it was that God first uttered it, there are still only two foundations on which to plant the house of your life. Rock or sand. They pay off in exactly the same way they always have. One stands firm in the greatest of storms, the other is washed away in inevitable destruction.
But what does it mean to build on the Rock? Jesus says it is simply this: hearing the Word of God and doing it. And that, first of all, means listening carefully to God’s Law—and applying it to ourselves!
I was once invited to preach in a large congregation that had a reputation for being loveless and legalistic. One man in particular struck me as a good example of a hypocrite, and I had him in mind when I wrote a rather stinging sermon. Wouldn’t you know it—as I was greeting the parishioners following the service, this fellow shook my hand and said, “That’s telling them, Pastor! There are a few people in this church who really needed to hear that!”
That is exactly what Jesus is warning us against. Failing to apply His Word to your own life is like building on sand. Nearly a half dozen times throughout the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior injected the words, “Don’t be like the hypocrites.” When he speaks of prayer: “Don’t pray like the hypocrite, who only wants to make a show.” When the topic is loving your neighbor: “Don’t be like the hypocrite who does what he does for himself, and not for God.” And very pointed are His words on the commandments against murder and adultery—He zeroes in directly on the heart and remarks: “Don’t you know that by hating someone you are just as guilty before God as if you had actually committed murder? Don’t you know that lusting after another man or woman actually makes you guilty of adultery in God’s eyes?”
Building on the Rock involves realizing the seriousness of your own sins. God doesn’t want us to mentally crane our necks in church, to make sure that so-and-so is awake, and hears the accusation of God’s Law on his sins. No, God says: you hear, and you apply. Listen with your heart. Realize, for instance, that when you get behind a slow driver on the freeway and blurt out those angry words of frustration and annoyance—that you are guilty of breaking God’s commandment. See for yourself that when you, as a husband, fail to love your wife as yourself or vice versa, then you are seriously in trouble with God. You children—when you disobey your parents or talk back to them, you’re also sinning against God. Yes, see the serious nature of your own sins. Don’t play the hypocrite—he’s building on sand when he imagines he is better than others.
But that brings us to the second point. Building on the Rock also means trusting in Jesus for forgiveness. Yes, Jesus wants us to know we’re sinners, but more important than that He want us to know we’re saved sinners. You see, of all the storms that buffets us in life, the worst and most dangerous is the angry accusation of a guilty conscience. When we open our eyes and realize our sinful condition, then it is vitally important that we be firmly attached to the Rock.
King David knew that. He committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba. For a while, all was hushed. His wickedness was kept a secret. Private lust led to private adultery, which bore the fruits of secret murder. But God saw it all. When Nathan came pointing the finger at David, the king bowed his head in guilt and despair. But is that the end of the story? No! David knew he was a sinner, but he also knew there was a Savior for sinners such as him. There was forgiveness, even for his desperate crime. In Psalm 61 David writes, “Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Ps 61:1-2.
Building on the Rock means building your entire life on the Promise of God. It does no good to built next to it. When the floods come, what good is it if you have the whole Rock of Gibraltar in your back yard? The scribes and Pharisees were very close to God’s Word. They read it, memorized it and even attached Scripture passages to their shirt sleeves. But they were far from understanding it. They went through all the motions, but the bottom line was that they trusted in themselves instead of in God. Building on the Rock does not mean “living the perfect life”—it means trusting that Jesus has lived the perfect life for you, in your place.
It’s been said that there are two ways of reading the Bible. You can read it as a lawyer reads a will, scrutinizing each minute detail; or you can read it as an heir reads a will, simply overjoyed to learn that such a marvelous inheritance is yours. Because of Jesus’ perfect life and substitutionary death, you have forgiveness—absolute, unconditional, no-strings-attached forgiveness for every one of your sins. As a believer in Christ, there is nothing that stands between you and a life of real peace on this earth. More important, there is nothing that can ever bar you from an eternal life of happiness in heaven. What could possibly give us greater confidence or more security than our Savior Jesus?!
Building your life on the Rock will never leave you out in the cold. Storms will blow; trouble will continue to come and go in your life. In fact Christians often get the worst of it, as Scripture says: We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. But the Lord will never desert you—and many of the older Christians I see here this morning can witness that that’s true. And when the ultimate test of weather comes; when your last hour arrives, and you must stare death squarely in the eye, then be assured that, having built on the rock, you will not be disappointed. You’ll be standing high above the accusations of God’s Law, because Jesus has already born the punishment for sin. At the throne of God’s judgment, you’ll hear the Savior say: This one is innocent—I have lived his life perfectly for him. He is built on My Rock; he is safe from all things.
The reason why the Prudential Insurance Company uses the Rock of Gibraltar as its logo is obvious: they want you to see buying one of their policies as a rock-solid investment, for which no tragedy will prove too overwhelming. In a much greater way, the Lord Jesus urges us to build on His Rock. It means that we apply the Law of God in its full, bruising force to our own lives; and repent of our sin. Then, realizing the need for a Savior, that we build all our hopes on Him. That’s the best kind of insurance. When the day comes, and the flood waters are toppling the houses of the unbelievers, you will heave a sigh of relief: yes, I am built on the immovable Rock! In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.