Nothing like the Sermon on the Mount has produced so much interest in study and yet so much apathy in practice. There we find famous saying like, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “You are the salt of the earth,” “Love your enemies,” “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name,” “You cannot serve two masters,” “Consider the lilies of the field,” and “Judge not, that you be not judged”—to name only a few. These sayings are rightfully famous.
Yet though they are held aloft as noble ideals, they are so often explained away. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer.”
As the listeners heard this radical sermon by someone their leaders considered an extremist, they were astonished. “It sounds good,” they must have thought, “but does it work?” People today continue to doubt the sermon by questioning its practicality. Turn the other cheek? Give to him who asks of you? Take no thought for tomorrow? Really? What will happen if I actually do that? To address these hesitations, the Lord Jesus forcefully closes His sermon with the parable of choosing either to build on a rock or on the sand.
AN ANSWER BY PARABLE
While the rock metaphor often refers to the Lord Jesus Himself, here it refers primarily to His teachings. Just as a foundation of rock ensures stability and permanence, so too this sermon comes with an unlimited performance guarantee. Building on the rock symbolizes obeying it: “He who hears these sayings of Mine and does them.” Although difficult, the wise will live by this sermon because it alone provides real stability in a shifting and unstable world.
The fool, on the other hand, “hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them.” When a disciple fails to be the salt of the earth, to love his enemies, to pray for God’s kingdom, to trust God with tomorrow, to judge with righteous judgment, and so on, this neglect is both foolish and dangerous. The floods will come. The winds will blow. While so many rationalize their disobedience, the Lord Jesus couldn’t have been clearer about the inevitable outcome of their actions: “and great was its fall.” As He said earlier, we will be like salt, “good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” Our testimony will be shot and our significance as an influence for God will be forfeited.
AN ANSWER BY PRACTICE
But we have more than this solemn warning to assure us of the importance of actually obeying the sermon. We can look back and see the result of the One who laid down this foundation. The Lord Jesus Christ practiced what He preached. He always lived in accordance with these principles—being the light of the world, loving His enemies, not laying up treasure on earth. For almost two millennia the storms of criticism and opposition have beat against the house of His life. “But the house on the rock stood firm.”