“Therefore 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.” (verses 24-27)
One of my favourite sermons in recent years was preached from this passage to a jostling group of children, with the rest of the congregation listening in.
I jostled, too, as I crowded together with the kids around a large “turtle pool,” a green plastic container moulded in turtle shape. The pool itself was empty except for two very distinct objects. One was a small boulder I had placed right near the pool’s centre, and the second, just beside it, was a mound of slightly moist sand, beautifully compacted in the shape of the flat-bottomed bucket I had unmoulded it from just moments before.
The kids gathered round. I began to tell the story. Two men had built houses, one on the rock and the other on the exquisite mound of sand. To make the story concrete, I brought out two miniature houses crafted from multi-coloured plasticine, courtesy of my very creative daughter. I carefully placed one on the boulder and the other, even more carefully, on the sand. We talked a little about how beautiful the houses were, what amazing views they would have had, and how satisfied the builders would each have been once their work was completed. It all looked so good, so inviting.
I then brought out a very large bucket of water and proceeded to douse the whole scene with the contents, managing to keep most of the water inside the turtle itself. The house on the rock stood firm, the mini-boulder unmoved. But the other house (you guessed it!) was swooshing around in the bottom of the pool, its perch on the mound now completely dissolved in the onslaught of water.
The illustration was clear. Don’t trust sand. Build on the rock.
Jesus’ point, having preached his full sermon (Matthew 5-7) and with much more teaching still to come, is that if we embrace what he says, putting it into practice, we will have solid foundation for our lives. Just like a house built on rock. But, if we don’t – if we listen but don’t actually engage his words, never putting them into practice – it will be as if we had built our house on sand. It all seems fine until the crisis comes, until rains come down and streams come up and winds howl. It’s at that moment we discover the necessity of good foundations. Rock provides it. Sand doesn’t. The teaching of Jesus, applied in our lives, allows us to be firmly grounded. But that same teaching, if ignored, does us no good – we’re cast adrift.
On another occasion Jesus will say, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). It’s like abiding as a branch in the vine, staying connected – that’s what we’re to do with Jesus’ words. Or settling down, making ourselves at home, taking up residence – that’s the posture, at home in his word.
Think of that poor man, sloshing around in the torrent of water, disconnected from all that is solid and true. Don’t join him. Keep ears open to Jesus. But don’t leave it there. Do what he says.
Lord Jesus, keep teaching me your truth. I’m ready to listen. I’m ready to obey. Strengthen me by your Spirit in my inner being to abide in your word, holding fast to your teaching, building my life on your sure foundation. May it be.
Reflect: Is there something Jesus has taught you that you have neglected to put into practice? If so, repent. Build on the rock.