To show that ethical teaching changes the way people live, Jesus pictures two men, the two houses they build, and the two results when the final storm arrives. One man digs through the layer of sand and builds his foundation on solid rock. The other man doesn’t go to all that trouble and simply lays the foundation on sand. When the two houses were completed they looked very much the same. During the dry summers days the houses stood side by side and the second man had a bit more left over cash to enjoy. The autumn rains came and the pleasure-oriented man smiled as he had means to buy a new umbrella and boots (I admit I am enlarging the narrative just a bit). Then came the rain and a flood swept down through the dry wadi. The wind beat against the houses and for a time it looked as if both would stand. The rock foundation house made it through the storm but the sand foundation house gave away and the house came crashing down.
The lesson is clear: In good weather, the two houses appear to be fine, but when that final storm of life comes the house built on sand collapses. The implication is clear: build your life house on a solid foundation and that foundation means putting into action all that God has taught. If we don’t, then when the storm of life comes we will find ourselves unprepared for what will happen. Down will come all that we had hoped would stand.
Biblical truth was not intended to serve as the basis for a theological discussion. It was meant to be a guide for an active Christian life. Like all biblical teaching, this sermon in Mathew
5-7 presents a lofty goal that we often despair of reaching. But we are to keep heading toward the goal (i.e., be sure you’ve gotten through the sand down to bedrock) and accept the fact that only Jesus ever did or ever will reach perfection. I am sure God recognizes our limitations and can excuse our ”failure,” but what he can’t excuse is the flippant understanding that sand doesn’t matter. The one thing you can count is that there will be a final storm. It’s purpose is to evaluate the house (read “life”) that you have built. I trust that your faith has dug deep through the sand of life and found security in the solid rock – faith in Jesus Christ.
Now this is a scary passage, or should I say, could be? Jesus is talking to some people who address him as “Lord, Lord” (the repetition tells you something). They “prophesy” in his name so they must be like preachers, or TV evangelists. They perform “miracles” and you can’t do that by yourself. They even “drive out demons” while intoning the sacred name. Yet Jesus labels them “evildoers” and says he never knew them. I believe that he meant that in an eschatological sense (referring to the final judgment).
So lets think about these reprobates – what they were doing, what they should be doing, and what will happen if they don’t take this warning to heart. Well, we already listen to what they were doing: they sanctimoniously address Jesus as Master of all. He is their LORD. Hmmn – In spite of the fact that they claim to be his spokesmen, drive out demons, and work miracles, when the day of judgment comes Jesus will tell them in no uncertain terms that he never had any genuine personal contact with them (“knew”) and pronounce the verdict, “Away with them.” What would be the contemporary counterpart to this bunch of hypocrites? I’ll leave that with you.
What is it then that they should be doing? Looks like they are putting on a great show. Who could do more than that? Well, Jesus says the only people that will enter the kingdom of heaven are the ones who do the will of his Father in heaven (v. 21). The key to eternal life in heaven is doing here on earth those things that please God. It doesn’t say “meet his expectations” but “live a life that is pleasing in God’s sight.” Put another way, “Don’t do it unless in your imagination God is breaking out in a smile.” That’s what I do when I am pleased and I’m simply a born–again sinner.
And what will happen if they don’t? They will not enter God’s kingdom. That expression refers primarily to God’s eternal rule in heaven but it also has something to do with what we call the present. God’s kingdom can be understood in a qualitative sense as the experience of his reign and rule, his complete control, a situation where everything operates as exactly the way he has planned it. In that sense we can right now be “in his kingdom,” enjoying the rich perfection of his plan for each of us and looking forward to that time when all who “do the will of their Father” stand in awe before the King of kings.
Not only are there two ways (former blog), but there are two kinds of prophets as well. Jesus speaks directly of the one that is false and implies something about the other.
Christians in the primitive church were especially vulnerable to false prophets who taught another gospel. They did not have ready access to written documents nor did they have the benefit of hundreds of years of theological teaching regarding the truths to which they had committed themselves. Jesus described the false prophets as “ferocious wolves” that acted like sheep. They took the truths of scripture and twisted them for personal profit. False teaching is more than an accidental departure from truth; it is an intentional alteration of truth for personal gain. Jesus warns the church about these deceptive wolves by telling the believers how they can spot them. It isn’t difficult; simply look at their lives. Actions have always revealed whether a teaching is true or false – “You will know them by what they do” (v. 16). If the fruit is good the tree is healthy; if the fruit is bad the tree is worthless and ready to be cut down and burned up (v. 19).
Let’s think for a moment about the deceptive nature of error. To convince oneself that the desire for possessions is positive, one could say, “See how well such and such a Christian project is doing because of my financial help.” What is not said is how the money was gathered or how much was spent to get it. Token gifts have allowed considered significant personal benefit and have provided and excuse for cultivated greed. Charity Navigator is an excellent site to find out all you need in order to evaluate a given not-for-profit organization. All of us are deluged from time to time with “opportunities to be of help.” Opportunities to donate are so cleverly stated that many fall for them. A very wise minister in a large church once told me that God always finances what he initiates. Lest I be misunderstood as being against charitable organizations I need to add that concern to guard what you have earned is not necessarily wrong. I want my dollars to go where they can go to work for those who need help. My concern is the deceptive nature of so much advertizing.
So John says, “Watch out for false prophets,” whether one is dealing with basic truths of the church or the life style of their proponents. Remember, you can recognize them by what they do, or, in biblical language, “by their fruit you will recognize them” (v. 20).