Annexing Our Kingdoms
A Series on Rediscovering the Life God Wants for Us Now
Part 22 – Life on the Rock
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Do you remember where you were on October 17, 1989? I’ll never forget.
I was at a convention, gathered with hundreds of other church youth leaders, in the ballroom of the Hyatt Hotel near the San Francisco Airport. We were right in the middle of a seminar entitled, “Dealing with Crisis”. The speaker, this seasoned youth pastor from Colorado, was talking to us about how we could best work with people during times of trouble and catastrophe. Little did we know that we were about to have an incredible object lesson.
Without warning, mid-way through the seminar, the entire hotel began to shudder. I remember that it looked like there were waves were running through the walls of the ballroom. Ceiling tiles crashed down around us. To me, it felt as if a giant had picked up the entire hotel and was shaking it to see what might fall out. As the earthquake continued, my friend and I tried to duck into a doorway. And I honestly remember thinking that the roof was coming down and that my life was about to end.
63 people died in the Loma Prieta earthquake that day. Another 4000 were injured. Over 100,000 buildings around the Bay Area were damaged. The Hyatt Hotel at the airport was one of those buildings. In fact, it took workers two years of re-construction before the hotel could re-open for business.
However, though the damage was extensive, the hotel didn’t fall, the roof didn’t crash down. Even though it had been built on landfill, on a part of the peninsula that used to be water but was filled in with dirt to make more real estate, some really smart people had worked extremely hard to make sure that the foundation of that building was designed in such a way so that if a giant ever picked it up and shook it, it wouldn’t fall.
I don’t remember if the seminar leader had actually included this as part of his presentation that day, but I know I walked away with the important lesson that there is nothing more critical during times of crisis and catastrophe than a solid foundation.
Since that time I have never been able to read the passage we are about to read together without thinking of those few terrifying seconds.
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, after Jesus has laid out what it means to be a follower of his in this life, he uses one very clear image – the image of foundations - to bring everything home. Listen to what he says:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Everybody is building a house in life. Every person you know is taking the resources they have been given – time, relationships, material things, abilities, beliefs – every person you know is taking these things and trying to build something out of the life they have been given.
Do you know what I mean when I say that? Do you understand that ultimately, each of us wants our lives to count for something. We want to make our mark. We want to build a life that, in some way, will endure, will have significance.
But we know this isn’t guaranteed. I think all of us know this. Because we know that there are storms in life which will come along with the potential to knock the whole house down. Do you know what I mean when I say that storms will come into your life and beat against your house? Most of us, I know, have already weathered more than a few of these storms.
I have this image in my mind of the Atlantic seaboard, maybe somewhere along the South Carolina coastline. And I picture standing there on the porch of some beautiful beach house on a spectacularly clear day. It’s warm, and there’s a breeze, and the children are playing in the surf. And standing on that porch, you can see how one might imagine in that setting that there is nothing in the world that could ever disrupt that scene. But experience and wisdom know better. Anybody who’s been around that beach awhile knows that the radar will sooner or later pick up a storm brewing somewhere out at sea, maybe more than one storm. And in time, those storms will make land fall. And those storms will beat against that beach house, maybe with hurricane force wind. And it will be a moment of truth.
Everybody in life is building a house. Everybody is trying to construct something lasting and significant with their lives. But it’s also true that everybody is going to face some storms. No matter where you build your house – and by the way, it doesn’t matter if you are a Christian or not - sooner or later, an earthquake, or a hurricane, or a flood, a tornado is going to come and beat against your house. Sooner or later, illness, or age, or loss, or pain, or betrayal, or despair, or doubt, and certainly, in the end, death, is going to come and beat against your life. Nobody on this planet lives a storm-free life. Nobody.
And when the storms come, that’s the moment of truth for the house. That’s the moment of truth.
The message Jesus gives here is for church folks. I don’t think he’s talking here to people who have never heard of him. He’s addressing people like you and me, people who sit in churches on Sundays, people who have had the chance in life to hear about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
And the message Jesus has for us here is not very complicated. It’s pretty simple, really. You’re building your house. The storms are coming. Everything, he says, - everything! - depends on your foundation. In the construction of the house of your life, there is nothing more important than the foundation.
Jesus says, simply, “If you hear my message and then you act upon it, you build the house of your life on a foundation of bedrock. And no storm will ever be able to tear it down. However, if you hear my message and then you decide not to act upon it, then you build the house of your life on a foundation of sand. And sooner or later, a storm is going to come along and knock it down. When it falls, it will fall with a great crash.”
Jesus says, “If you disregard my message, if you don’t act on what I’m telling you, the house of your life is going to end up in ruins.”
Now, I reflected on what Jesus says here quite a bit this past week. And I wondered, do any of us disregard Christ’s message? Of course we can think of plenty of people who do. Right? There are people in the world who do disregard the Gospel. Some people want absolutely want nothing to do with Christ. But do any of us fit that category?
Honestly, I think it’s fair to say that there are many Christians today, certainly in our culture, who incorporate the message of Christ into the building of their lives, but not as the foundation. The reality is that I think there are lots of folks sitting in churches this morning for whom, you might say, Christianity is much more about interior decorating than it is about foundations.
Here’s the temptation. A person is exposed to the message Jesus came to bring and he likes a lot of what he hears. And so he begins to decorate the house of his life with a little bit of the Gospel. He puts up some wallpaper by joining a church. He picks out some new curtains by giving some of money away to help those who are in need. He puts on fresh coat of paint on the outside of the house by remembering to say his prayers. He even installs brand new plumbing by trying to get in the habit of reading his Bible. And when he’s done, the house looks wonderful from the street. Lots of curb appeal. It’s ready for a big spread in Better Homes and Gardens.
But then there’s the foundation. That’s a whole other story. And to be honest, he doesn’t really want to mess with that. It’s too expensive. It’s too complicated. It’s too extensive. Besides, the house looks great.
The problem is, there’s a storm coming. More than one, actually. And, as we’ve already covered, houses don’t withstand storms, or earthquakes, because they have fancy interior decorating. Houses withstand storms and earthquakes because of solid foundations.
If there is any one thing I pray we have all learned in the last five months it’s that the Christian faith, that a life following after Jesus Christ, is a total commitment of a person. If Jesus Christ is not allowed full reign in a person’s life, if Christ is not allowed permission to renovate every area of a person’s life, than the house of that life is in danger of being built on sand. There may be some nice interior decorating. You may believe Jesus is God. You may hang around a church some. You may do some good things in his name. But if you’re life isn’t sold-out to Christ completely, if he isn’t the leader of your life, then it’s only a matter of time before some storm will come along and your house will crash to the ground.
I think writer Dale Bruner nails this idea so well I want to quote him at length. He writes, “The house that crashes is the house of the Christian who finds Jesus’ words important enough to hear but not realistic enough to live. For such Christians the Sermon on the Mount is not practical enough for the demands of modern life, or is to naïve for the contemporary fast-lane, or too spiritual for urgent modern causes, or, perhaps most commonly of all, it is just too hard. For whatever reasons, Jesus’ words are only heard; they are not done. And Jesus sees this chemistry of hearing plus-non-doing as forming a compound of sand. Nothing immediately different happens to the house built on sand: it gets hit with the same rain, flood, and wind that hit the rock house. But when the storm is over the house is gone.”
Way back in January, in the very first sermon of this series, I talked about how each one of our lives is like a little kingdom. You may remember that I used my son’s toy castle as an illustration. Each one of us is building a little kingdom in life, a little castle, a little house, if you will.
I pointed out back then that when my son plays with this castle – which he loves to do – he is the sovereign ruler of this little kingdom. He is lord of the manor; he is master of his domain. He can make the little knights do whatever he wants them to do. At six years old, he’s not in charge of much. But he is in charge of this little kingdom.
Again, your life is your little kingdom. God has given each of us, in many ways, dominion over our lives. Nobody controls your thoughts, your beliefs, many of your actions. Each of has a great amount of control within the limits of our own little kingdoms. Sometimes this is called free will.
Now God, as you may remember us talking about, also has his kingdom. It’s much larger than our kingdom. He has dominion over history, over creation, over the weather, over time, over morality. His kingdom, compared to ours, is infinitely greater in scope.
The Message of Jesus Christ – the message which we often call The Gospel, or the Good News – the Message of the Sermon on the Mount which we’ve been living in for five months now, the heart of the Christian faith and life, is essentially this – it is a gracious and urgent invitation to us, to take our little castles, to take the houses of our lives, and build them on the foundation of Jesus Christ. The invitation is to trust God enough that we would annex our little kingdoms into the greater kingdom, the Kingdom of God.
Now, throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been giving us images and pictures of what life in God’s Kingdom looks like, what life on the rock looks like. Can you remember? It’s a place where people don’t hold on to anger or resentment. It’s a country where sexuality and marriage are honored and pure. It’s a place where people say what they mean and mean what they say. God’s kingdom is a land where people don’t try to impress one another, they only seek to be noticed by the king. It’s a place where people refuse to hold up yardsticks to each other in judgment, and where only true treasure is valued. It’s a land where nobody worries, where nobody is stressed, because everybody has all their needs and concerns met by the king.
I don’t know about you, but as I have been on this tour of God’s kingdom these past few months, my desire to live in such a place has grown and grown. I want to be a citizen in that kind of land. I want my castle – my life - to run like that. The problem is, it doesn’t. As much as the Sermon on the Mount has shown me the life I want to live, it has also shown me the life I fail to live. Can you relate to that?
This is exactly why the final word in whole Sermon on the Mount is this word – if you want to live as a part of God’s kingdom, if you want to live this kind of life, you have to take your whole castle, you have to take the house of your life, and you have to build it on the rock. You have to build it on the foundation of Christ. Because when we do that, when we take our little kingdoms and allow them to be annexed into God’s kingdom, when we give up being king and let him be king, when we surrender our lives completely and totally to Christ, he comes in and, by the Holy Spirit, lives within us. And when he comes in, he comes in with grace and with power. He comes in with grace to forgive us and to clean us; and he comes in with power to transform us and to help us live the lives he wants us to live, lives which, otherwise, we could never live.
Jesus is crystal clear. Hearing his message is not enough. If you sit here Sunday after Sunday and all you ever do is hear his message, it is not enough. The message must be acted upon. The Gospel is not just about information. It’s ultimately about transformation. The message is not just supposed to strike our ears. It’s supposed to penetrate much farther than that, to our hearts, and our lips, and our hands, and our feet. We’re not just supposed to know about Christ, we’re supposed to be transformed by him, from the inside out. The Message of Christ must not just affect what we do on Sunday mornings, but it must break into our lives in such a way that it effects our marriages, our work, our finances, our words, our priorities, our time, all of it! The whole kingdom!
This isn’t about wallpaper and new curtains. It’s about a brand new foundation.
The beautiful thing – and I never really thought about this until this week – is that the foundation is already poured for us. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that we have to go out and pour a bedrock foundation. No! It’s already there. The rock, the cornerstone, is already there. We just have to be willing to allow our house to be built there. The work has already been accomplished. Christ has already done it all. All that is left is the choice of where we want to build this house. All that is left is surrender.
In closing, let me read to you again the few verses that describe the reaction of the crowds after Jesus had finished his teaching. At the end of chapter 7, Matthew writes, “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
Notice that at the end of the message, it’s not really the message itself , but rather the messenger, which is most impressive. It’s not the content of the sermon, but the preacher. It’s Jesus and his authority which capture the imagination and the hearts of his hearers.
My prayer is that the same has happened here these past weeks. That at the end of our trip through the Sermon on the Mount, above all it has been Jesus who has captured your imagination and heart. It’s not really even about the message. In the end, it’s really about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. He is our hope. He is our life. He is our salvation. He is the way.
And the most important decision of your life, bar none, is the choice you make about where to build the house of your life. Build it on the Rock. For if you do, though storms will come, though even death will come, the house will never fall. That is God’s promise.
Almighty God, give us grace to be not only hearers, but doers of your Holy Word, not only to admire, but to obey your message, not only to profess, but to practice your ways, not only to love, but to live your gospel. So grant that what we learn of your glory we may receive into our hearts, and show forth in our lives: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Next Step:
In preparation for next week’s message, you might read Hebrews 12:1-3.
BBC News at http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/17/newsid_2491000/2491211.stm
Fredrick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, Volume 1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s Publishing, c. 2004), p. 361.
This prayer was composed for the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in 1948. It is cited by Bruner, p. 363.