Building on Jesus
In October 2018, a massive Category 5 hurricane side-swiped the Hawaiian Islands. Named Walaka, it was one of the most intense hurricanes ever recorded in the Central Pacific. By the time it approached Hawaii, it had weakened considerably but still raged as a large, dangerous storm.
Thankfully, it stayed far enough away from most of the Hawaiian Islands, causing only minor damage, except at East Island where Walaka hit dead center. It completely submerged East Island and destroyed it. Gone!
As it turned out, the island was so small no one lived there. But I didn’t know that when I first read the reports. I imagined evacuated families returning to find nothing left of their homes and lamenting the fact they ever chose to build in such a beautiful but doomed location.
The episode reminded me of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:24–27:
Therefore 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. But 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.
What’s Wrong With Sand?
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5—7), Jesus taught His disciples about life in His coming Kingdom. He also taught what life for His people can be like now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as He reorients our hearts and lives. Jesus provided a massive declaration of what is possible through the work of God in our hearts.
He ended the Sermon on the Mount with the parable about two houses built on the edge of impending doom—a little like East Island in Hawaii.
You may be wondering, What’s so bad about building on sand? Sand is frequently used in construction today. True. And most general contractors will tell you that in some cases, building on sand is even a good idea.
But Jesus said differently. Most Christians believe this parable illustrates the wisdom of building on a solid, immovable foundation. Sand shifts; rock doesn’t. So be smart and build on the rock. But that isn’t the image Jesus was conveying. I believe He was saying something else.
The desert regions of Israel contain canyons called wadis, where periodic rains originating miles up in the mountains create sudden, large, dangerous rushing floods. People and flocks drown in these wadi floods every year. At certain times of the year, it’s even dangerous to walk in a wadi while under a clear blue sky because the rainwater rushes down so suddenly from so far away that it can catch people by surprise and wash them away.
The only safe place is up on the canyon walls, on the rock above the wadi’s sandy floor. The sand is where the flood rushes. The rock is where you’re safe.
Jesus was talking about judgment in Matthew 7:21–23. That was the context. We don’t know when the storm of God’s final judgment is coming; but it is coming. To build a permanent home on the sandy floor of a wadi would be like building a home on a sandbar in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during hurricane season. It’s foolishness. Instead, we should build our homes on the rock.
The Importance of Tuning In
So, the big question is, “What is the rock?” Jesus said it is the principles He taught the crowds in Matthew 5—7. His words are the rock. The Sermon on the Mount is the rock, and the Sermon on the Mount is where we need to build our permanent homes.
The Sermon on the Mount tells us to be merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers (5:7–9). It tells us to bless those who persecute us (vv. 10–11) and to be salt and light so people will see our good works “and glorify your Father in heaven” (v. 16). We are to forgive; go the extra mile; love our enemies (vv. 38–48); and “lay up . . . treasures in heaven,” not on Earth (6:20).
Do we think of Jesus’ words this way? Do His words pierce our hearts? Do we memorize them? Do they captivate us so much that if we miss time in the Word, we feel like we’re missing out on spending precious moments with a dear friend? Can we really say our lives are built on the regular habit of poring over Jesus’ words?
When my wife was pregnant with our first son, I wondered what Riley’s voice would sound like when he grew old enough to speak. I daydreamed about having conversations with him. What topics would catch his interest? I cherished every word he spoke those first few years. We read lots of books together, and I told him innumerable stories. Everything he said fascinated me.
Later we had more children. More words. More books. More stories. Then our four kids began fighting with one another. Recently my wife turned to me during dinner and said, “Can you please answer Riley’s question? He’s been trying to talk to you for five minutes!” I was so used to his voice that I had developed the ability to completely tune it out. How sad.
Unfortunately, we do the same thing to the Lord. Jesus’ teachings become so familiar to us that we lose our sense of wonder regarding them. We begin to build our houses on the sandy floors of wadis.
But if we’ll give Jesus the time, He can change our hearts. If we’ll do more than merely sprint through His teachings, we’ll discover amazing truth. In fact, if we build our days around reading His words and putting them into practice, we’ll find more than safety: We’ll find life.
What Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount tells us what happens when God changes a person completely—from the inside out:
→ Those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness will find it and be filled.
→ Those who make peace will have the perfect peace of sonship with God.
→ Those who love their enemies will learn to love as God does.
→ Those who long for God will find the greatest reward and spurn all other treasures.
Hungering and thirsting for God, making peace, loving our enemies, and genuinely longing for God more than for anyone or anything else are difficult to do. But as impossible as these commands seem, God can so completely reorient our hearts that the impossible becomes gloriously possible. Through His work and Spirit in us, we can experience a small piece of that final perfection God will give us in His coming Kingdom.
Jesus concluded His sermon by basically saying, “Build your life on THIS teaching of mine.” Don’t just listen. Jump in wholeheartedly. Live as though these words bring life—because they do. Immerse yourself in them like a desert wanderer who throws himself into an oasis or like a man in a wadi who sees a flood bearing down on him and jumps onto the rock walls.
If we build our lives on Jesus’ words, we’ll find everything we need during our time on Earth. Truly, we would be fools to build anywhere else.