Matthew 7:15-29: Build Your House Upon the Rock
January 18, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Having explained his main teaching throughout this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus now moves towards the closing of the Sermon. And as he does so he strikes a note of warning, or “beware.” Given all that he has said about what makes a real Christian, a real follower of Jesus, someone who is characterized by these qualities, because in the end they are a supernatural work of God and of his Spirit – they have been filled as they hungered and thirsted for righteousness – given all that, what should be the conclusion to this teaching? Well, Jesus tells us that our conclusion should be to ensure that we really are his, that we really are following him, that we really are on the “narrow path” that he has described.
Verses 15-23 shockingly tell us that even among so-called “prophets” there can be “false prophets.” If anything had been proved true in the history of the world, surely this has! From Mohammed to Joseph Smith, the world has been full of the sound of vain prophets claiming to follow Jesus (in some sense or other, or at least honor him as merely another prophet himself) but not actually be his. What test can Jesus’ disciples employ to discern true teaching, true prophetic utterance, from false prophecy? The answer is a simple one. Jesus does not here suggest a doctrinal test – though elsewhere in the Bible such simple forms of doctrinal tests are employed (“No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Spirit of God”; “test the spirits,” 1 John 4).
But here Jesus’ focus and key distinctive in terms of test is in the moral fruit of a prophet’s life. What are the fruits? How do they live? What kind of practical fruit does their life bear witness to? We are not thereby to become, as I have heard it put, legalistic “fruit inspectors” of everyone else. But when we taste the fruit of a prophet’s or teacher’s life, does it taste sweet and that it is Christlike, or does it taste rotten and evil? Do they look after their family? Do they put into practice the teaching of Jesus here? If not, then they are not his, and the end will prove that to be the case. He will say “I never knew you” (that is they never had a true relationship with him, they did not have the work of God in their lives to give them this supernatural new life that the Sermon on the Mount describes), and that they are “workers of lawlessness,” (that is they did not actually do what Jesus told them to do).
People frequently employ the wrong test. They employ the test of “gifting,” how impressive are the miraculous signs, or the verbal charisma of the individual personality. But God used Balaam’s donkey to speak. It does not matter, in this sense, whether a person casts out demons in Jesus’ name or performs mighty works, if they are not actually his in terms of their relationship to him, and if they are not actually bearing the fruit of that relationship in terms of putting into practice the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount in their own daily lives. The test is not gifting, for God will use people who are not actually regenerate; the gifting does not get down to the core personality or transform the person. The testing is the fruit: for someone who bears Christlike fruit, the fruit of the Sermon on the Mount, is someone who knows Jesus himself.
The conclusion to this teaching about “fruit” is a sobering one: actually put into practice what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. And so Jesus, at the end of the Sermon, concludes in that way with his famous mini-parable of the house built on rock versus the house built on sand (7:24-27). There is no point simply hearing Jesus’ teaching and simply going to church and hearing sermons on the Bible if all that makes no real difference to what we do with our lives. It is as foolish as going to a doctor to receive a diagnosis, getting the medication, and then not actually taking the medicine. It will not do you any good to have the medication on a shelf. It must be taken. Jesus’ teaching must be received personally, individually, and then put into practice. Only then will it protect you against the storm of coming judgment, the storm of a death bed, the storm of old age and dying, the storm of Jesus’ return. Build your house upon the rock.
Well, the crowds who were sitting one ring out from the disciples to listen to the teaching (5:1) were amazed at Jesus’ teaching. But what amazed them was not his verbal ability or his compelling teaching style; what amazed them was the “authority” with which he taught. “They have said this,” he says, and then he did not continue with, “but other teachers say something else, and therefore our conclusion is to be somewhere in between these various options.” No, his authority was shown by saying, “They have said this,” and then continuing with “BUT I SAY TO YOU,…”: that divine, authoritative “I” rang out strong and clear throughout the Sermon on the Mount, and left them shocked and amazed. All Bible teaching is to have something of this note of authority, for it is to teach the Bible (and not merely balance human opinions). But Jesus had it in its complete fulfillment: He spoke as none else before or since have spoken, the author of Scriptures teaching the Scriptures with divine authority.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
To receive God Centered Life devotionals directly in your inbox, as well as other resources, enter your email address in the form at the bottom of this page and click "subscribe."