The most famous sermon ever given is called “The Sermon on the Mount.” It was delivered by Jesus of Nazareth in the early part of his earthly ministry. In his conclusion the Nazarene used an analogy to encourage his audience to follow through on his Mountain Teachings. He told them:
“So, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them, will be like a smart person who built a house upon a solid Rock. And the rain came down and the rivers flood and the winds blew and it did not fall. For it was founded on that solid Rock. And, everyone hearing these words of mine and not doing them will be like a stupid person who built a house on sand. And the rain came down and the rivers flood and the winds blew and struck that house! And it fell! And the fall was great!” [Matthew 7:24-27 Christian Scriptures 2001]
Jesus illustrated two types of people who heard his sermon: the smart and the stupid. The smart or wise were those who listened to his teachings and then applied them. The stupid or foolish were those who also listened but did not apply these principles in their lives. The former built on a rock foundation, while the foolish built on sand. Of course, we modern day disciples of Christ want to be among those who are smart or wise. Obviously we want to build on rock. However, what are the building blocks outlined in the Nazarene’s Sermon on the Mount? How could we determine whether we are building on rock or sand? In part, the answer lies in the application of about a dozen and a half principles stated in our Master’s most famous sermon. By considering these we can affirm that we continue to build on Rock. Let us take a look at each one.
Among the first of these building materials is “righteousness.” Right in his introduction Jesus says:
“Blessed those hungering and thirsting for righteousness for they will be filled.” [Matthew 5:6 Christian Scriptures 2001]
And then just a bit later, he adds:
“If your ‘righteousness’ does not surpass the Scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the Heavenly Realm.” [Matthew 5:20 NCMM]
So if a Christian does not begin with an attitude and actions characterized by righteousness, then right from the start he or she begins to build on sand.
What is “righteousness”? It essentially means obedience to God’s commandments. That is, doing what is “right” and “just” in the eyes of God. If a disciple thinks and leads a righteous life then they build on a solid foundation. To do the opposite, that is “unrighteousness”, is to build on sand. Jesus himself lists those things that would “defile” a disciple. He teaches:
“It is what comes out of a person that defiles a person. For it is from the inside, from a person’s heart that harmful thinking proceeds: sexual immorality, thievery, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, loose conduct, evil eyes, blasphemy, arrogance, unreasonableness. All of these wicked things issue from within and defile a person.” [Mark 7:20-23 NCMM]
An attribute to be avoided is “anger” or wrath. The person who is habitually angry in their attitude and manner builds on sand. The person who is confrontational or adversarial in their nature is building on sand. Jesus taught:
“You heard it was said to the Ancients: ‘Murder not’ but the murderer will be judged. But, I tell you: Anyone angry with his brother will be judged. But, anyone saying "Raca!" to his brother will be liable to the Sanhedrin. But, anyone saying "Moron!" will be liable to the Gehenna of the Fire.” [Matthew 5:20, 21 NCMM]
Murder begins in the mind first with hate and anger. So Jesus warns against the characteristic that would cause murder - anger. Later in Matthew 12:36 Jesus warns against speaking the unprofitable word - probably about someone else in anger - and how this will not escape the Judgment. The Christian remains on guard against anger which rises out of an ego-centric heart. He or she will then be building on a solid rock foundation. Those who argue that their anger is just the way they are is building on sand.
In his introduction to this sermon Jesus had said:
“Blessed are the peace-makers for they will be called ‘sons of The God’.” [Matthew 5:9]
He continues in Matthew 5:23-26:
“And so, when you bring your gift-offering to the Altar and right then you remember your brother has something against you leave your gift-offering at the Altar. First leave and be reconciled with your brother and then return and offer up your gift. Think well of your adversary, and quickly, while on the way, so your adversary never hand you over to the judge and the judge to the court-officer and he throw you into prison. I tell you the truth: You will not get out until you have repaid the last little coin!” [NCMM]
In the Nazarene’s analogy he affirms that peace with others comes before worship. The Christian who puts worship ahead of peace is building on sand. The image above is one of a Jewish worshipper approaching the Temple and about to hand over his sin-offering or communion gift to the priest serving at the Temple. The worshipper’s purpose is to give a sacrifice for his sin. In the Christian Age there is another “altar,” a spiritual one associated with the New Covenant (Hebrews 13:10, 12, 15, 16). In these verses the inspired writer outlines two aspects to this “altar”:
Using Jesus’ teaching, the Christian will keep this in mind before offering ‘a sacrifice of praise’ or ‘sharing’ with others in some charity. In other words to pause and ponder whether there is a fellow Saint who holds a grudge. Better to go and make peace with him or her before approaching this spiritual “altar.” Apparently a legitimate charge or accusation of which you are aware. Here the Nazarene shows that peaceful relations come before ceremonial worship. Seeking peace with God through a communion sacrifice is meaningless if relationships with fellows are jeopardized. James writes in a similar vein at James 1:26, 27.
Who is this “adversary”? [Compare a similar thought at Luke 12:58, 59; Leviticus 19:17; Colossians 3:13.] Note the singular “you” in the Greek as if now Jesus’ attention is directed to one individual, singled out in the crowd or among his disciples - who often had personal difficulties - who is not at peace with his fellow. Would not the eye contact of the Nazarene send this worshipper speedily to the door of his brother begging forgiveness?
The context here seems of a material or financial nature for when the worshipper leaves the altar to reconcile with his brother it is over a matter involving a court appearance. It is a financial debt and the Nazarene demonstrates how such matters can take priority over worship. Financial matters are often one of the chief areas of complaint and the cause of disunity among fellow worshippers. Nothing divides persons more than materialism (subtle worship of the god Mammon) with its greed, covetousness, business deceit, or fraud (Compare Luke 12:58; 1 Corinthians 6:7).
So the Christian who ignores peaceful relations with others and continues in his or her pious worship is building on sand and not on the solid foundation of rock.
In his introduction Jesus had mentioned the “pure in heart.” In Matthew 5:27-31 Jesus directs his remarks to married men:
“You heard it said: ‘Commit not adultery.’ But, I tell you: Anyone looking at a woman, desiring her in his heart, has already adulterated [his marriage to] her. But, if your right eye stumbles you, cut it out and throw it away. Better to lose one body-member than your whole body be thrown into Gehenna. And, if your right hand stumbles you, cut if off and throw it away. For it is better one of your limbs be lost than your whole body go to Gehenna. But, it was said: ‘Whoever releases his woman, let him give her a divorce certificate.’ But, I tell you: Any man who divorces his woman except on account of fornication causes her to commit adultery. Any who marry the divorced woman commit adultery.” [NCMM]
Christian husbands who continue to desire another other than their wives are building on sand. This is a matter of the heart’s desire and may not be discernible to others. James 1:18 makes it clear that sin begins in the mind or heart. Perhaps no verse of Scripture has tormented male souls more than this one for nearly all men stand condemned at one time in their life for this deviation and those who deny this are liars. Jesus does not mean to condemn - for he knows what is in man - nor does he give a command here. Rather, he merely states the fact or principle: sin begins in the mind (James 1:14, 15). It is mainly married men Jesus has in mind for unmarried men may look at a single woman with desire for that is the Biblical nature of things (See the Song of Solomon; 1 Corinthians 7:9).
Such desire for another women often leads to a divorce in an attempt to get rid of one woman for another. Jesus goes right on to discuss this when he indicates that there is only one ground for divorce among Christians - adultery on the part of the offending mate. Jesus does not mean that Christian men can commit adultery and then be free of marriage. The Nazarene’s intent is to make it clear that husbands may not divorce their wives unless they commit adultery. The Christian husband who habitually has a passion for other women, or divorces his wife save on the grounds of her adultery, is building on sand.
Jesus goes on to make it clear that those who build on solid rock are those who are not vengeful, adversarial, or confrontational. Indeed, rather than hating their enemies, they must give to any who wish to borrow from them: Matthew 5:38-42 says:
“You heard it said: ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But, I tell you: Do not resist wicked authority. But, whoever slaps your right cheek, turn to him the other. And, the one with a legal settlement against you for your inner garment, let him have the outer. And, whoever impresses you to go one mile, go two. Give to those asking and do not turn away from the one wanting to borrow.” [NCMM]
Jesus encourages the very principle behind the Civil Rights Movement - non-resistance. [Compare Romans 12:17; 1 Peter 2:23.] Most do not see the Nazarene teaching pacifism here while others do. The New Jerusalem Bible footnote says: “The gospel does not forbid reasonable defense against unjust aggression.” Though we do not find the Nazarene making use of such self-defense (John 18:22, 36). The subject here may be “wicked authority” represented in either the Roman occupiers or the harsh religious hierarchy. There are three examples within this context of “wicked authority”:
Here are the contexts for the famous phrases, “turning the other cheek,” and, “go the extra mile.”
In this matter Jesus includes charitable giving. He will go on to teach about this in more detail. Giving is a hallmark of the Nazarene’s teachings. These include interest free loans something encouraged by the Law of Moses. (See Deuteronomy 23:19; Luke 6:32-34) A real test on the Christian disciple is the pocketbook, and is demonstrated in being ‘liberal and ready to share’. (Romans 12:8, 13; 1 Timothy 6:17-19). The Christian who refuses to share that good bounty God has given is in serious danger and is building on sand. (James 1:27; 2:15-17; 1 John 3:16-18).
Jesus taught that the Christian who refrains from loving enemies - loving only friends - is building on sand. The Christian who is willing to show love to enemies builds on a rock foundation. Matthew 5:43-48 has Jesus teaching:
“You heard it said: ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But, I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. And so prove to be Sons of your Heavenly Father. For His sun rises upon the wicked and the good. And He rains upon the righteous and unrighteous. For what is your reward if you only love those loving you? Are not tax-collectors doing the same? And, what extraordinary thing are you doing if you only greet your brothers? Are not the Gentiles doing the same thing? So, you shall be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [NCMM]
Greek scholar William Barclay comments on the Nazarene’s Saying: “There is no commandment of Jesus which has caused so much discussion and debate as the commandment to love our enemies.” The Greek for “love” here is from agape and many feel the English “love” does not do justice to this word. Barclay defines the word: “Seek the highest good of another.” Perhaps the best definition of agape completely lacks the word in the context: 1 Corinthians 10:24, ‘Seek not for self but for others’ and Philippians 2:4, ‘Look not after self but others.’ agape can be ruled by a) principle; and, b) motive. If the principle or motive be wrong then the agape is misdirected. If the motive and principle are correct then the agape is pure and not hypocritical. There are only four occurrences of AGAPAO in the Nazarene’s Mountain Teachings (Matthew 5:43, 44, 46; 6:24).
Jesus indicates this includes just the way we greet others. There is much of just plain good manners here and this graciousness is across the social board. The ultimate display of hate is to ignore greeting those with the simplest words that might indicate some spark of recognition or respect. The Christian who habitually gives a “cold shoulder” to either other Christians or enemies is building on sand and not rock.
Luke 6:27-35 outlines how this “love” is demonstrated:
(Compare Luke 6:28; Romans 12:20: enemies) Your enemies are those who do not love r like you and are most often found among those bowing next to you in prayer or singing loudly God’s praises! Paul argues that the “law’s fulfillment” is found in “love of neighbor.” (Galatians 5:14) If “love of neighbor” fulfills the law, what does “love of enemy” do? It leaps light years ahead of the Mosaic Law or Torah and puts before the average man a difficult, if not impossible task - unless one is truly committed to Nazarene discipleship.
Such love of enemies is proof of truly being a child of God. [See Luke 6:35.] Divine sonship does not come by birth as John 1:12, 13 shows. There must be a “birth from above.”(1 John 2:29; 3:9, 10; 4:7; 5:1-4) The strongest proof of this status as a son is to love one’s enemies. As Matthew and Luke show, the Father does good to both the wicked and unthankful. Thus, no Christian can argue that one can withhold goodness from the wicked or ungrateful. Such are building on sand and not rock. There is a natural tendency to show kindness to those loving you, whereas God’s love is showered on those who might still ignore Him and continue to exist in a sinful state. With the Nazarene these are not mere words, for we see him demonstrating this again and again. Each time we demonstrate love to an enemy we build on rock. [For more details see the Biblical Article Loving Your Enemies.]
Jesus cautions about the public display of religiosity including charity, prayer, and fasting. The latter is discussed in Matthew 6:16-18. The former are found in Matthew 6:1-8:
“But, listen to this: Do not exhibit your ‘righteousness’ before men to be observed by them or you will have no reward from your heavenly Father. So, when you give charitable donations do not trumpet before you as hypocrites do in religious gatherings and roadways to be honored by men. I tell you in truth: They have their full reward! But, you who give charitable donations, let your left hand not know what your right hand is doing. So, your charitable donations will be secret. Then your Father watching secretly will reward you secretly. And, when you pray, be not as the hypocrites. For they like to pray standing in religious gatherings and in town squares to be viewed by others. I tell you the truth: They have their full reward! But, you, when you pray, enter your private room and shut the door praying to your Father secretly. And, the Father watching secretly will reward you. But, praying, do not babble many words as the Gentiles. For they think by uttering many words they will be heard. So, you should not be like them. For The God your Father knows what you need before you ask.” [NCMM]
It is clear that Jesus teaches that any religious exercise or spiritual worship that has as its inner motive “to be viewed by others” is building on sand. The Greek for “charity” above is eleemosynen and may be rendered “gifts of mercy”. Various other renderings are: TCN: acts of charity; BAS: give money to the poor. Material giving is right at the top of the short list of Jesus’ favorite topics.
Those who build on sand are hypocrites and these are described by various renderings: PHI: like those play-actors in the synagogue; TCN: praised by others; MOF: to win men; PHI: make sure that men admire them. The Greek word translated “hypocrite” is hypokritai (hypo + critic/judge) and refers to that mask actors wear when playing roles. It carries the idea of “two-faced.” Jesus says such builders on sand have their full reward now in this present life with no expectation of some future reward. Reward and credit or repayment is a much-used expression by Jesus as though God were an accountant keeping a tally of debits and credits in a ledger.
The disciple building on a rock foundation is always forgiving and never holds a grudge or keeps account of offences. It is the one who builds on sand who is a miser when it comes to forgiveness. After giving his model prayer Jesus gave the first commentary on one of its elements. He taught:
“For, if you forgive the missteps of others your heavenly Father will forgive yours. But, if you do not forgive the misstep of others neither will the Father forgive your missteps.” [Matthew 6:14, 15 NCMM]
Jesus gives several parables on the subject of forgiveness. [Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 7:41-50; 17:1-4] Matthew 18:35 concludes the first parable:
“Just so my heavenly Father will do to you if ever you do not forgive from your hearts every one of your brothers!" [NCMM]
Thus, the Nazarene places great stress on the act of forgiveness. Such a forgiving Christian builds on a solid rock foundation, while the person who bears a grudge builds on sand.
No one can read the Nazarene’s Sayings without being aware of his frequent reference to riches, things, properly and material anxiety. The Christian disciple who is building on a rock foundation has discovered the “secret” of balancing daily concerns with spiritual matters. The person building on sand will be found constantly worrying about livelihood, the desire for more as well as an absence of charity. The Friend of the Nazarene has only two choices: slavery to The God or slavery to the god Mammon. Jesus puts it this way:
“Do not treasure up for yourselves ‘treasures’ on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. But, treasure up ‘treasures’ in heaven where neither moth nor rust consume and where thieves cannot break in and steal. For where your ‘treasure’ is there your heart will be also. The lamp of the body is the eye. So, if your eye is focused right your whole body will know the Way. But, if your eye is focused wrong your whole body will be blind. So, if the ‘Light’ in you is ‘Dark’ --- O, how much darkness! No one can slave for two lords, for either he will hate one and love the other or embrace one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Riches! For this I tell you: Do not be overly concerned about your soul as to what you might eat or what you might drink. Nor about your body as to clothing. Look well to the birds in the sky, they do not sow or reap. Nor do they gather into storage barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you that much different? But, who among you can add one minute to your life-span by being overly concerned? And, why are you overly concerned about clothing? Learn something from how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. But, I tell you: Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as one of these. But, if The God clothes the fields of grass, here today and tomorrow tossed in the oven, how much more you, ones of little faith? So, do not be overly concerned, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ Or, ‘What will we drink?’ Or, ‘What will we put on?’ For all these the Gentiles overly seek. Your heavenly Father knows you need all these. But, you, seek first His Kingdom and righteousness and all these will be added to you. So, do not be overly concerned about tomorrow. For tomorrow will have its own concerns. The hardships of each day are enough!” [Matthew 6:19-34 NCMM]
Jesus repeats this warning in one of his parables [Mark 4:14-20] as well as in his cautions regarding those end-time Saints who are alive just prior to his Return. Luke 21:34, 35 warns:
“Continue paying strict attention to yourselves lest your hearts become burdened in overeating and drunkenness and life’s anxieties, for that Day will arrive upon you suddenly like a trap.” [NCMM]
Thus, the Nazarene’s rock solid teachings do not change throughout more than 2,000 years. The spiritual Christian focused on the Kingdom builds on rock while the materialistic Christian is focused - by thought, speech and action - on Riches.
Everyone has opinions about others - some wrong, some correct. Most people are very judgmental or critical of others, particular people they either do not like or are jealous of. There is a big difference between having an opinion and expressing that opinion to others. The latter often manifests itself in slander or some critical words. The Christian disciple who refrains from being critical of others in speech, refusing to be judgmental, builds on solid rock. The Christian disciple who speaks their mind regarding others to their detriment builds on sand. Jesus taught:
“You, condemn not, that you are not condemned. For you will be judged with that ‘judgment’ by which you are judging! Why look at the straw-speck in your brother’s eye when you do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or, how will you say to your brother: ‘Permit me to exorcise the straw-speck in your eye?’ Hypocrite, first exorcise that rafter out of your own eye and then see clearly enough to exorcise the straw-speck in your brother’s eye!” [Matthew 7:1-5 NCMM]
When we truly realize that the standard we use for others will be used against us on Judgment Day we will become much more forgiving of others. [Matthew 12:35, 36] We will find excuses for our Christian brothers and sisters. We will find ourselves defending our fellows within the Nazarene community, rather than agreeing with any unkind or even slanderous remarks made against them, we will refrain from judging, criticizing or condemning them. Those who do not obey our Master’s commands above will build on sand.
Those who will build on a solid rock foundation must habitually practice the Golden Rule. Almost all religions contain a negative version of this that says, “Do not to unto others what you would not want them to do to you.” Thus, some can reason that if they do no harm to others they have kept such a rule. However, the Nazarene goes far beyond that. He states the so-called Golden Rule in a positive manner:
“So, everything you want others to do to you, you also do to them. For this is the Torah and the Prophets.” [Matthew 7:12 NCMM]
In any given circumstances or situation what would we want others to do for us? Then we must do the same for them. This requires positive action. For example, if we were stranded with a flat tire far from help what would we want passersby to do for us? Then, we must have that same frame of mind. This is a character that always thinks first of others rather than self. It never turns a blind eye to those in need, for that is not the way we would want to be treated. Jesus gives the parable of the Good Samaritan that illustrates his rule above. [Luke 10:29-37] Jesus concludes that parable with: “Now you go your way and continue to do the same thing.”
In the account in Luke 6:30-36 when Jesus repeated some points from the Sermon on the Mount at another time, he incorporates the Golden Rule in the context of charity and giving:
“Continue to give to everyone who keeps asking you, and do not ask the person who takes your possessions to return them. Now just as you want people to do to you, you continue to do the same. And if you only continue to love those who love you -- what charity is there to that? And if you only continue to do good to those who keep doing good to you - what kind of charity is that? Even sinners do the very same thing! And if you ever lend [money] hoping to receive it back - what kind of charity is that? Even sinners keep lending [money] expecting an equal amount in return! Instead, all of you continue to show loving concern for your enemies. And continue doing good - continue lending [money] without expecting anything to be paid back. If you do your reward will be considerable, for you will become the Most High’s offspring, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Continue to be charitable just as your Father is charitable.” [NCMM]
Clearly, the Christian disciple who builds on rock is characterized by such positive concern and compassion for others. Those who build on sand are those who say, “As long as I do not hurt my neighbor I am okay.”
Jesus moves to the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount by characterizing the true disciple who builds on rock and the pseudo disciple who builds on sand.
“Enter by the Narrow Gate. For the way to destruction is broad and roomy and many are those entering by it. For, narrow the Gate and cramped the Way leading to Life and few are those finding it. You, be alert for false prophets who come to you dressed as sheep but inside are rapacious wolves. By their fruitage you will know them! No one ever gathers grapes from thorns or figs from thistles! Thus, every good tree bears good fruitage, but rotten trees, wicked fruitage. No good tree bears wicked fruitage, nor a rotten tree good fruitage. Every tree not bearing good fruitage is cut down and thrown into the Fire. And, so, from their fruitage you will know them. Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the Heavenly Realm but the one doing the will of my heavenly Father. Many will say to me in The Day: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?’ And, in your name cast out demons? "And, in your name did many dynamic works?" And then I shall confess to them: ‘I never knew you! Get away from me, those working unlawfully!’" [Matthew 7:13-23 NCMM]
The Christian who builds on a solid rock foundation is one who does the will of God. These are not necessarily characterized by prophecy, exorcisms or other miracles. The disciple building on rock will produce good fruitage while the person building on sand will produce “wicked fruitage” including failure to put into action what Jesus has already said in this sermon.
As we saw in the introduction to this article there are only two responses or reactions to our Nazarene Master’s teachings: doing them or not doing them. Those who fail to practice the teachings of Jesus will discover in the parousia-judgment that they have built on sand. These will be those who respond to the Judge, “But, Lord, Lord, did we not … “ Jesus will say he never had a relationship with them.
Those who have continued to build on rock are those who continue to practice righteousness, avoid anger and wrath, behave as peacemakers, have honorable marriages, love their enemies, avoid religious hypocrisy, practice forgiveness, refrain from judging others, and practice the Golden Rule. May you be among those who built on solid rock - the teachings of our Nazarene Master - and will sing hymn of salvation in the Celestial Kingdom.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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