Editor's Note: This is the fifth and final in a series of Lenten reflections on the Sermon on the Mount. To read an introduction to this series, click here.
Doing the Word
The climax of Jesus' words on the "Sermon of the Mount" comes in the final nine verses. In these challenging words we discover an important theme in Jesus' teaching and certainly a key theme in the gospel of Matthew. For Matthew the Christian life is not "righteous" by virtue of following the commandments or by demonstrating outward signs of piety. It is not accomplished even by profession of faith. Verse 21 is quick to offer its stern warning: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."
Jesus then likens the life of a faithful Christian to the one who builds his house on a rock, the one who faithfully follows Jesus' teaching. These words have now expanded the requirements of goodness to include more than obeying the commandments, more than outward piety. To obey Jesus' words means a commitment to purity of mind, body, and spirit. It requires a goodness from within, one that does not retaliate against those who bring harm nor harbor ill will in the privacy of the inner self, but seeks to love and forgive as God does.
During my pastorate at Denton, Texas, I was required to find my own housing since there was no parsonage. My wife and I took the opportunity to build our own home. We selected a builder, found a suitable lot, and then had plans drawn. Before we could build, however, the contractor had to do a soil study. To my utter horror they drilled down 27 feet and never found anything but sand! How was I going to tell my congregation that their preacher was building his house on sand? Fortunately the samples from the lot were not "sifting sand" but rather "concretized sand," a material judged to be solid enough to be a firm foundation!
A foundation is crucial for a home. But the foundation of our lives is all the more important. During my lifetime, I have witnessed a few ministers who have failed to stay "grounded" in the faith. They have placed their trust in other things. Some, like the hypocrites in Jesus' teachings, were seduced by their own rave reviews. They reveled in their "good works" and somewhere in the privacy of their own souls they sold out to their inner demons and succumbed to betrayal and infidelity. The words of Jesus would prove to be both tragic and true for them. Those who build their houses on sand and not on rock, those who live their lives for themselves and fail to follow the teachings of Jesus will eventually fall—and great will be the fall. All of us have witnessed such tragedies.
Jesus' call to righteousness is one that offers us a solid foundation, one that stands firm even in the midst of the storms of life. Such a foundation is not produced as the hypocrites thought by following rules of ethics and rituals of piety. It is not as simple as mastering outward actions no matter how religious or altruistic they might seem. What is required is even more than the crucial ingredient of belief. Jesus insists that the Christian life is more than calling him, "Lord." One must serve him as Lord. It is not enough to believe in him, to be able to pick Jesus out of a line-up and identify him as Savior. More will be required, much more, as the "Sermon on the Mount" makes inescapably clear. To put it simply, it is not enough to believe in this Jesus, one must faithfully follow him. To do so, will be life giving, even life abundant.
- Was your life ever resting on shifting sand, an unstable foundation of living?
- Are the teachings of the "Sermon on the Mount" essential components of Christian living or are they more like a wish list for especially dedicated Christians?
- What is most characteristic of your Christian life: your belief in Jesus as God's Son or your commitment to follow him?