Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

69. Rock and Sand (Matthew 7:24-29 Luke 6:64-69)*

This discourse of Jesus, the like of which men had never heard before, ended with an appeal for honesty. No use to reckon yourselves among my disciples unless you face frankly and with clear-sighted resolution the challenge which my teaching presents. The warning was, ana always is, necessary, for there is no lack of those who want their membership of the body of Christ on easy terms, and even by deferred payments.

The unpractical idealism behind some of the principles of Christian behaviour laid down by Jesus presents a repeated temptation to argue to oneself, and even out loud, that of course the Lord did not mean just what he said, nor even what he seemed clearly to imply. The inclination to “bend” the moral principles of Christ-or, more especially, the direct personal application of these principles-is both strong and subtle. Often enough expediency says: “But of course Jesus cannot have meant his words to be taken this way. It’s just not practical. “And forthwith the admittedly exacting demands which the Sermon on the Mount makes are watered down to something so much more congenial and easy of achievement.

So, anticipating this (how he read human nature!), the Lord expostulated: “And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Why? With many the simple answer is: We like to be associated with you, Jesus, we love the graciousness of your personality, we are fascinated by the power and freshness of your teaching, we marvel at your wonderful works, and we are happy to accept you as Leader-only don’t ask us to follow where we find the going difficult or unattractive.

A Parable from Proverbs

So Jesus put the right and the wrong attitudes into a parable which, like so many he was to fascinate men with, he quarried out of the Book of Proverbs: “As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation” (10:25]. Here “the righteous one” is Jesus himself, “for other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11; Mt. 16:18). Also it is noteworthy that in Proverbs the counterpart to the man who “heareth, and doeth not” is “the wicked.” This is not the kind of antithesis one would expect, but the standard of judgment of both Old Testament and New Testament differ drastically from ordinary human estimates. In the parable of the talents the lord of the servants addresses as wicked and slothful” the servant who has done precisely nothing (25:26).

Again, “the wicked are overthrown, and are not; but the house of the righteous shall stand” (Pr. 12:7; cp. also 14:11; 1:26-33). The close resemblance to the parable of Jesus is not to be missed. This time “the righteous” is the man who builds well and truly on the foundation provided by Christ, “rooted and built up in him, and established in the truth as ye have been taught” (Col. 2:7).

Jesus has warned about two ways (Mt. 7:13, 14) and about two kinds of tree (7:16-20). And now, two men -- the wise and the fool. Always there is a sharp differentiation, not a gradual shading off from the highly commendable to the hopeless reprobate, but just sheep and goats, wise and foolish virgins. But always the judgment is his. The fellow-disciple is forbidden to write off his brother as a “fool” (5:22), even though it be suspected that here is a religion of cheap imitation.

The Details

It is not always appreciated just how vivid and exact is the little drama which Jesus depicted. It is the side of a wadi, but well clear, surely, of any rising water. There on a ledge side by side these two men build their houses. It is implicit in the story that their former homes have been abandoned as unsatisfactory (there is obvious meaning in this!), and also there is the implication that they chose this new site because they must have water without which life is so difficult as to be almost impossible.

The spot chosen is a bank of earth (Lk) and sand (Mt). The wise one of the two proceeds to dig deep in order to find the solid rock as foundation. The other, considering it hardly poetical to spend all this time and labour on excavation, goes to his building without delay. And indeed he might well do this with adequate justification in his own mind for this policy. It is a well-recognized principle in building that where there is no risk from water a sandy soil makes a good building foundation. More than this, was it not true that the Tabernacle in the wilderness was built on sand? But it did have its heavy silver sockets as foundations!

The builder who did not trouble about getting down to rock would be seen to make very spectacular progress by comparison with his more thorough neighbour. And whilst weather conditions were good it would seem to everybody that he was every bit as well off as the other who had chosen to add so much apparently unnecessary labour to his task.

But at the first serious test (Lk: immediately) there came disaster for the one and vindication of his fellow. Heavy rain, fierce winds, and rising waters all combined in an onslaught of the elements. The storm brought down a sudden rush of floodwater, more heavy in character than could have been foreseen. Very speedily the unsolid foundations of the one house were eroded by the torrent. The ensuing instability was unable to withstand the blast of the storm, and the whole place fell in, “and great was the fall of it” as it buried its builder in a dramatic collapse. The water of life which made that site so desirable, and even necessary, had brought destruction.

The Lesson

The main point which Jesus sought to make here is, very simply, that the closer a man comes to Christ in the life he lives, the more secure he is in present trials and in the Day of Judgment. And the less close he is to Christ, the greater his danger. To any superficial judgement he may appear to be well equipped and safe, but the crises of life and-yet more certainly the ultimate judgment of Almighty God will differentiate between the genuine and the sham. Then, “why do ye call me Lord, Lord, and yet do not the things which I say?” The answer given by the parable is: Because of spiritual laziness and/or because of desire to put on a show of religion without the inner transformation and personal dedication to Christ which is discipleship.

The symbolism may even hint at a confident dependence on earthly descent from Abraham, whose seed are as the sand, rather than on Christ, the true foundation. Israel’s temple had this unsubstantial foundation, even though it seemed to be secure on the rock of Zion, whereas the apparently unsubstantial temple of the Lord has permanence, being made secure on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), that is, on the foundation which they have helped to provide.
It was a grim note on which the Lord ended his manifesto. And the same sombre emphasis was to recur, especially in the last year of his ministry.

Matthew’s Sub-divisions

Here, in the rounding off of the Sermon on the Mount comes the first of five occurrences of the formula used by Matthew to indicate the conclusion of one of the well-defined sections of his gospel: “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings...” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). The similarity with Dt. 31:24 is certainly not accidental: “And it came to pass when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book...” The five-fold repetition in Matthew was no doubt intended to remind the reader of the five books of Moses. Here was one greater than Moses/ speaking God’s words to the people-not from Sinai in the wilderness, nor from Nebo giving prospect of the Land of Promise, but from a mountain which was within his own inheritance.

Reactions to the Lord’s teaching

The teaching of Jesus provoked an amazement in the people which showed no sign of abating (Greek imperfect): “the people were astonished at his doctrine”-on this occasion especially because “he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes, ” who never dared pronounce an opinion without quoting the revered Rabbi This or That. Jesus’ abandonment of such a time-honoured practice was perhaps susceptible of the interpretation that he had not the rabbinic learning nor the detailed acquaintance with the standard Jewish authorities to be able to follow the classic methods.

The reaction of the people shows, rather, that there was such authority about the tone and demeanour of Jesus as to put him in a class by himself. And the Greek text implies that this was habitual with him. It was an authority received from his Father (Mt. 28:18; Jn. 5:27; 10:18; 17:2).

It makes an interesting survey to review the reactions of the crowd and the rulers to the teaching of Jesus at different times in his ministry. On two occasions it is said that the people marvelled at his teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, because “his word was with power”: he was “glorified of all”. And in the synagogue at Nazareth: they “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth”, yet only a short while later in fierce anger they sought to destroy him.

All the other available examples belong to the last six months of the minstry. At the last Feast of Tabernacles the leaders of the Jews marvelled at his teaching ability, since he was not college-trained. On the same occasion the effect on the crowd of worshippers was very marked. Many were prepared to concede that, Jesus was the promised prophet like unto Moses, or perhaps the Elijah-prophet who should prepare the way for Messiah. Others baldly and bluntly asserted their conviction that he was the Messiah. The officers of the temple guard, sent to arrest him, came back empty-handed and clearly over-awed by his authority and power: “Never man spake like this man”.

The action of Jesus in cleansing the temple a second time, together with the remarkable character of his teaching in the temple court, again left the crowds astonished, but the same things only goaded the chief priests and scribes into further plots on his life.

Last of all, his learned adversaries among the Pharisees threw at him in quick succession the most searching problems they could find as a challenge to his teaching, but this carpenter from Nazareth sent them away marvelling at the wisdom and effectiveness of his answers. If only it were possible to recapture today a brief impression of the power and effectiveness of Jesus as a teacher! But all that is left is a record of some of the things he said and a catalogue of varied summaries describing the reactions of those who heard. Amazing man!

Notes: Mt. 7:24-29

The “and...and...and” sequence here is very forceful.

Floods...founded upon a rock. Cp. the Messianic Psalm 18:2, 4, 15, 46. For “founded upon a rock” RV text of Lk. has “it had been well builded”. This is a textual reading not as well supported as AV.
And doeth them not. Different verb forms in Mt. and Lk. The former: Does not normally do them; or, just possibly, stops practising them. The latter might imply: He never did do what Christ said.
Great was the fall of it. Does 2 Pet. 1:10 allude to this? The key word and the idea are the same.
The people were astonished. An astonishing sequence of passages records this. In order: Mk. 1:22; Lk. 4:15; Mt. 13:54; Lk. 4:20, 22, 23; Jn. 7:15, 43, 46; Lk. 19:7; Mk. 11:18; Mt. 22:22.

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