“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rains fell, 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 (Matthew 7:24-25, NRSV).
Convicted financier Bernard Madoff lured his investors with promises of uninterrupted riches by investing with him. Old and young alike flock to reality show auditions, hoping for their one shot to be noticed. Self-help books continue to enjoy brisk sales because Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Suzi Orman are the oracles of possibility thinking, preaching a gospel of American can-do attitude and spirit. All of these means for getting in on a certain kind of life have crashed against the wall called actual life. When life hands us the cards of ambiguity and failure, we are willing to listen to anyone who can tell us how to get a secure life without little change. Jesus was more than another peddler of advice or happiness schemes; he’s a game changer in moving us from death to life! Jesus was not interested in performing cosmetic life touch-ups, but to sift the very ground of our lives and hearts for kingdom purposes. Hearing and doing, according to Jesus, are connected to living wise in Jesus’ way and with Jesus’ truth. Matthew insisted we pay close attention to the geography, topology, and theology of Jesus in the text above.
Jesus finished up his greatest sermon at this point. His popularity had reached rock star status. He had taught thousands of people great insights into God’s Kingdom. The people seem to be hanging on his every word. He spoke with such confidence and clarity that Matthew stated, Jesus “taught them as one having authority and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29). Jesus was on a roll. He ended his amazing sermon with something out of Home and Garden Television. We need a brief explanation why Jesus went building contractor on us. He chose, by design, to build on word pictures everyone listening to him would have understood. Jesus began using familiar first century cultural images to build his case as the new Rock of Ages.
Jesus was one of many prophets who was speaking of a greater kingdom coming into the present in the first century. Many listened to the proposals from all kinds of pseudo messengers and that was it. It carried the weight of a late night infomercial. Jesus wanted to break through the white noise of the day. New Testament scholar Kenneth Bailey said this parable was“like dynamite in a small package” (Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 321). In other words, Jesus was setting biblical explosives under the prevailing theology of the day. For those listening and acting on his words, their lives would stand on better footing when life storms surprise at any time. Jesus chose geography and topology as his whiteboard in grounding his biblical theology.
Matthew described Palestinian storms as three powerful movements. First, the rains came down with sheer force. There’s very little grass and mud to soak up the rain. Sudden downpours easily move almost everything including homes. Nothing was exempt in its path. Second, the floods always came up. Floods in the Middle East can rise quickly. People could drown in seconds without much warning. Experienced people knew what to do during flash floods. No one ever built their houses without knowing this important fact. Third, the winds blew and beat on the house. Winds in Middle Eastern valleys can have the same force as hurricanes. If houses are not built below the crumbling sand and top soil, sudden wind gusts, along with heavy rain, can wipe out poorly built homes in a matter of minutes. Once the clay underneath the home was loosed and peeled away, the first stone popped away and the rest of the house rushed down the valley. According to Jesus, poorly built lives are easily rushed away by the powerful movements of life storms because people’ lives were not dug deep enough to withstand sudden floods of clever words, tantalizing philosophies, juicy gossip and plain old life lived in a fallen world. Jesus insisted that his hearers go one step further: take in his words as rock solid gospel in a world filled with lies, misinformation, and chatter.
People will listen to anything that helps them to build a life that can stand the challenges of life. Men and women have graced my study only after they have tried everything the world had offered as sure fire ways to become healthy, wealthy and wise. The results are broken lives, bruised spirits and weary souls. As a pastor, I can only point them to place their lives again in their only Savior, Immanuel. Jesus’ words and ways are the only means that can dig out below the surfaces of frightened people, set their very lives on the sure foundation of grace, blessing and hope in the risen Lord. When their hearts are anchored again in the message of Jesus, they are reminded of Jesus’ promise to make something out of them. Jesus is the house that has been founded as the precious cornerstone that cannot be moved by the rains of life, the floods of pain, and the winds of change. Lead us to the rock that is higher than us.
NRSV used throughout
Reginald Smith was born and reared on Chicago’s West Side. He was very active in his home church, Unity Fellowship Missionary Baptist. He was educated in the Chicago Public Schools and was the first in his family to go to college where he earned a bachelor’s degree from Culver-Stockton College. He moved to Grand Rapids to attend Calvin Theological Seminary and earned his master of divinity degree in 1992. In 2004, he earned the doctor of ministry degree from Western Theological Seminary. Reggie has been the senior pastor of Roosevelt Park Community Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, MI, since 1994. He has published numerous articles, book chapters, and devotionals. He and his wife, Sharon are committed to modeling a life of racial reconciliation in a cross-cultural urban setting.