How Will You Respond to Jesus?–Matt. 7:24-29

Tonight we finish the series on the Sermon on the Mount.  God has been gracious to speak to us through His Word, and I hope and pray that by His grace, we’ve learned more of what it looks like to be a follower of Christ through this series.

We finish up with a reminder that the words of Jesus are serious, and how we respond to Him impacts where we spend eternity. Join me in Matthew 7:24-29:

“‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and 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.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.’  And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”

Whether the people listening to Him realized it or not, the reason Jesus spoke with authority was because He is the authority!  According to Him, how we respond to Him shows not only whether or not we are wise, but whether or not we stand in the storm of God’s judgment.

In the story Jesus tells, the one who endures through “the storm” will be the one who builds their house on the rock, and the one who dies is the one who builds their house on the sand.  As is always the case with the words of Jesus, this is serious.  Jesus is talking about life and death.  He’s not talking first and foremost about the “storms of life.”  Although that’s a popular viewpoint, it’s wrong, and the context of the passage helps us see that.

Jesus has just finished talking about those who He will send to hell because he never knew them.  Before that, He discussed how those who fail to bear the fruit of true faith will be “cut down,” that is, they won’t be joining Him in heaven.  And, lastly, before that, Jesus discussed the way into eternal life with Him, through a narrow gate and hard way.  Based on the context, the “storm” Jesus is describing is the coming storm of God’s righteous judgment.

So what does it mean to “build our house on the rock?”  How can we make sure we have done this, and will stand secure at the judgment?  By listening to the words Jesus has said.  This is in reference to the previous words in the Sermon on the Mount. Make no mistake, the Sermon on the Mount is not a guide to earning salvation.  Jesus, in the beginning of His sermon, commends those who know they need mercy, and commends the broken-hearted, and calls them blessed.  All of the moral imperatives flow out of the gospel, out of a relationship with Jesus.  I had a seminary professor explain it this way: “The Sermon on the Mount is not a guide on how to get into the kingdom of God, but a description of what life looks like in the kingdom of God.”  Listening to Jesus’ words and obeying them is commanded, but it is only possible if we are a disciple of Christ.  So, the next obvious question…how do we become a disciple of Christ?

Before Jesus preached this sermon, He preached a much shorter sermon (at least from what’s recorded), in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand: repent and believe in the gospel!”  We build our lives on the rock when we trust in Jesus as our God and receive Him as our Savior.  We build our lives on the rock when we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Repentance involves a confession of sin, an agreeing with God about our sin, and a turning from it, a desire to no longer go on in it, and a trusting in Christ as Lord to help us obey Him and kill our sin.  As we turn from sin and trust Christ to help us follow Him, we trust Him to save us, to give us His righteousness, to forgive us through His death on the cross.  We trust that what He’s done He’s done for us.  So following Christ, then, is not an exercise in earning righteousness, but in living it out.  We’ve come under the Lordship of Christ, and He has given us His righteousness.  He has changed our hearts.  He has forgiven us of our sin.  We now live to be who we are in Him, to bring Him glory and to tell others about Him, and toward this end, we listen to and cling to every word He says.  This is why Bible study is essential for the life of the Christian.  Simply put: You won’t follow Jesus well, if at all, without consistent time in His Word and in prayer.  Jesus Himself knew the Scriptures and prayed daily….how much more should we?

Knowing Jesus is what makes you wise.  Knowing Jesus and being united to Him is what allows you to live out what He’s said in the previous three chapters, and knowing Him in a saving way is what allows us to stand righteous before the Father on that great day of judgment.  Know Him.  Trust Him.  Follow Him.

Did you notice what happened to the other guy?  The guy who built his house on the sand?  In case you didn’t catch it, let’s read it again: “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 

Not listening to Jesus’ words, not submitting to Him as King, not admitting I need Him and trusting in Him as Savior, leads to eternal damnation.  We must not be so naive as to think that God is simply okay with us telling Him we’re not interested.  He’s God.  It doesn’t work that way.  Would it ever be acceptable for a child to look at His parents and say, “You know, I know you created me and everything, but you really don’t have a place in my life?”  Of course not!  Assuming the child has decent parents, there’s no excuse for such disrespect.  In the same way, while only those who know Jesus are children of God, we have all been created by God, and all have a responsibility to recognize Him as God, and when we don’t, God is rightly offended.  God alone is God, and it is terribly wicked for someone or something else to be recognized as “God” in a person’s life.  The punishment for our sin is hell.  Praise God He’s sent a Savior so we don’t have to fear judgment or hell, but can rejoice in Him forever.

If you learn nothing else from my posts, learn to trust in the finished work of Christ for your salvation and to commit your life to Him.  Learn to repent, to confess your sin and trust in Christ to help you follow Him.  Trust His grace.  Trust in Christ.  Learn Christ.  If you forget everything else, learn Christ.  If you forget everything else from the Sermon on the Mount (and I hope we won’t!), remember to build your life on the words of Christ, in this passage and in all of Scripture.  Make your life about Jesus.

Lord, may we never stop praising you for who you are.  May we continue to listen to your Word and follow you.  May you graciously lead us as our Lord and continue to stand for us as our Savior.  May you be glorified in all we think, say and do.

God bless,

Neal E.

I’m not sure when the next blog post will come.  School has started, work is picking up, and I’m involved in a new ministry this semester, so blogging unfortunately gets moved to the back-burner.  But if you subscribe, I promise you won’t miss anything!  Again, God bless!

Death or Life: Which Will You Choose?

That seems like a pretty easy question to answer, doesn’t it?  If I were a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that 100% of people, when presented with a choice between life and death, will choose life.  I believe it’s safe to assume that we like living more than we like dying.  Most people, when they’re asked if they’d like to have eternal life, will say yes.  Again, I don’t have statistics to back that claim up, but I feel like it’s a safe assumption.

But do we know how to gain eternal life?  There’s no denying that we all want it, but Jesus makes it clear that not all will have eternal life.  Not all will be with God forever.  While we all want to have eternal life, or as Kenny Chesney put it, “everybody wants to go to heaven,” how can we know that we will go there?  How can we be sure that we have life?  Jesus has answered that question for us in Matthew 7:13-14.

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus lays out two possible paths for us to be on: on a hard road, having gone through a narrow gate, or on an easy road, having gone through a wide gate.  All of humanity is on one of these roads.  There is no middle ground here.  And Jesus says the gate that we enter by and the road we are on determines whether or not we have eternal life.

The way of destruction that Jesus describes is the way of the world, the way of those who don’t know Jesus.  The gate is wide because there’s room for all kinds of beliefs, all kinds of behaviors, all kinds of (false) saviors.  There is no one way through at this gate.

It’s not hard to look at the world around us and see that there are a lot of different religious beliefs.  Christianity is not the only religion in the world.  It is certainly not the only religion that claims to be the one and only way to heaven.  This broad gate accepts all sorts of beliefs.

Some will ask, “Why is that so bad?  Shouldn’t all beliefs be honored as equally valid?”  Not if they’re not true.  There’s a reason we don’t accept the opinion that the world is flat anymore–we know it to be false.  As someone who’s crossed the Pacific Ocean, I can testify that the world is indeed round, and not flat.  There’s a reason that children all across the world lose points on their math tests if they answer that two plus two equals seven.  Two plus two is four, case closed.  And when we argue about the existence of God, and the nature of who He is, and what we must do to be in right relationship with Him, we cannot afford to treat it as just another talking point.  There is nothing more important than understanding and knowing who God is, and being in right relationship with Him.  The wide gate leads to destruction because it allows false beliefs about false gods to creep in, meaning that those who are on it are not right with the real God.

The way that leads to destruction is also easy.  On this road, there is no sacrifice, no commitment, no change.  There’s no repentance, or change in behaviors.  It is the road of the “good life,” the “easy life,” the “my life feels like a vacation life.”  It is the road that justifies sinful behavior by promoting self-rule.  It is the road of “your best life now.”  If your best life is now, you don’t know Jesus.  For those who know Jesus, we know our best life is yet to come, because our life is in Jesus, and He is coming back to finish making all things new.

So if you choose the easy road, that requires no commitment to God, if you choose the wide gate that leaves room for all sorts of “gods,” you may have an easy life here.  You’ll have fun following the “gods” of self, sex, money, power, etc.  But 20,000,000 years later, you’ll be separated from the real God, the one you rebelled against your entire life, and there will be no way to get out of hell, out of separation from fellowship with God.  Scary?  Yes.  But praise God Jesus’ sermon doesn’t end there.

Jesus next describes the way that leads to life.  This way goes through a narrow gate.  Now, understand that Jesus isn’t preaching a works-based salvation.  He isn’t saying that the gate is narrow and you have to work really hard, and do a lot of good things, to pass through it.  The gate is narrow because there’s only one way through–Him.

You enter by the narrow gate when you give up on yourself and lean on the finished work of Christ alone for your salvation, and trust in Him alone to be your Lord and to lead you in a new life of knowing, trusting and obeying Him.  In other words, we are saved, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

But isn’t that, someone may ask, insulting to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc.?  Yes, it is.  It’s insulting to me, too.  It’s insulting to all of us.  The cross is insulting because the cross is humbling.  We want to save ourselves.  We want to pay back our sin debt.  We want to be in control, and we want God to listen to us.  We want the Creator to be at the mercy and will of the created, and that’s just not how it works.  You can’t be your own God and have God as your God at the same time.  You can’t have life while rejecting the God who gives life.  The question is not, “Is the cross insulting?” but rather, “Will I let God kill my pride that I may be saved through Christ?”

The Christian life is hard.  Sometimes, we like to dress it up like it’s a party, where we’re constantly in worship, constantly growing to be more like Christ, always smiling and happy.  We never struggle to believe God, or to give our time and money and energy to the kingdom of God.  But that’s not the truth, and anyone who’s trusted in Jesus for more than five minutes can testify to this fact!  On top of the sufferings and struggles every person, regardless of their relationship with Jesus, experiences, such as medical problems, job loss, relationship tensions, etc., Christians are also in a war with their sin.  A Christian is one who has made Christ their Lord and has made sin their enemy.  We hate our sin.  Jesus is in charge now.  He has given us His perfect righteousness.  He has forgiven us through His precious blood.  We recoil at the very thought of offending Him because of His great love for us.  But we do sin.  And we sin a lot.  And we sin horribly.  Some of the things I most regret in my life have come after I came to know Christ.  The difference is in how we respond to our sin.  Instead of simply shrugging our shoulders and getting on with our lives, we confess our sins before God.  We agree with Him that our sin is wrong.  We trust Him to help us follow Him, and we rest in His righteousness and in His forgiveness of our sins.

That’s hard work!  There’s joy in knowing we’re forgiven, but the pain of daily repentance and the effort required to daily pursue God threatens us and entices us to turn away from Him, and live our lives like He does not exist.  But Christ has not left us that option.  He is Lord.  And those who fight sin and trust Him for the entirety of their lives will be saved, and will have a joy beyond compare in the life to come.  Let’s choose that life today.

This is not the popular way.  To renounce self and put my dependence on Christ and follow Him as Lord never has been and never will be popular.  The result of Jesus’ ministry was public execution.  The result of some missionaries’ preaching of this gospel is their death.  But will we be popular, or saved?  Will we be with the world, or with God?  Will we be famous and living the easy life, or struggling for the glory of God?

Will you choose death, or will you choose life?

Lord, may we choose you.  May we trust that you love us, that you save us, that you lead us, and that no matter how hard this difficult road gets, we won’t ever walk it alone.  May the gospel rid us of all fear and doubt and lead us to give our lives for your sake.  May you be glorified in the lives of those who choose to enter by the narrow gate and embark on the hard way.

God bless,

Neal E.