(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)

This wonderfully graphic parable is about two very different kind of lives. We are all building lives. The house on the rock and the house on the sand represent the kind of lives we are building.

(B) The two houses

(1) The two houses were built in the same sort of place - the floor of a wadi or on a river terrace. The two kind of lives, that of the genuine Christian and the apparent Christian, can be found in many churches.

(2) It would probably not be easy to discern the crucial difference between the house built on the rock and the one built on the sand. The foundations are hidden. The two builders have very much the same motivation. Both want somewhere safe and comfortable to live. So each would build along the same lines.

It is never easy to distinguish between the true Christian and the apparent one. Jesus stressed this point in 'The Parable of the Weeds.' The servant of the farmer who sowed good seed in his field wanted to pull out the weeds. The farmer replied: "No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them." Mt13v29. In many respects the genuine Christian and the false professor desire the same things: inner peace, comfort and consolation, fellowship and happiness, security and safety.

(3) It is possible to misjudge the worth of the two houses with their different foundations. The house built on sand may seem:

    (a) More attractive. The time saved establishing the foundations might be spent on an ornate exterior. Instead of spending money on digging deep the builder concentrates on putting up an imposing facade.

    People attend church who are attractive, amiable, easy going, relaxed and popular. Probably no-one doubts that they are Christians. However none of these qualities makes a man or woman a true believer.

    (b) More impressive. A large, many roomed, mansion with a superbly designed interior can be built on the sand. There is so much to admire about such a house that no-one questions the nature of its foundations.

    The church does have a large number of very accomplished people associated with it. Lives are adorned by impressive talents and achievements. Splendid orators, singers, instrumentalists, flower arrangers, architects, artists and actors make a valued contribution to church life. But talent in itself does not make anyone a true believer. Jesus said: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Mt7v21.

(C) The two foundations.

It is the foundations that make the houses different and distinguish the genuine Christian from the apparent one. There are three questions we need to ask:

(1) Do we know what the foundation of the Christian life is? Jesus teaches that his true followers will found their lives upon his teaching. The Sermon on the Mount is the blue print for Christian living. It is the code of conduct expected of the subjects of the King. I wonder how glad we are to hear about what Jesus expects of us. In my experience Christians are always pleased to hear about God's grace but not so keen to be reminded of their obligations.

(2) Have we dug deep? Digging down through superficial deposits to the solid rock is no easy matter. A few years ago I spent a couple of hours digging a trench for the concrete foundations of Brockley Cricket Club's new changing room; it was not a pleasant experience!

Sometimes we need to take stock - to examine ourselves - to assess to what extent Christ's teaching influences our lives. I have dealt earlier in this series of expositions with Jesus' command to love our enemies, to bless those that curse us and to pray for those who ill treat us.

False Christians do not like being invited to look at themselves because to do so would reveal no sustained effort to obey Jesus and thus no real love for him.

(3) Are we building on the rock? This is by no means easy. The bedrock is unlikely to be smooth. It will need levelling. Obstructions will have to be removed.

Likewise it will not be easy to overcome the old nature and live by the ethics of Jesus. Some people are of a critical disposition. It will take a long time before such individuals are able to judge as they one day hope to be judged themselves. I can speak from experience. By nature I am very liable to retaliate when upset. It took me a long time to realise that that this was wrong. It has taken me even longer to learn at least sometimes to turn the other cheek. I know a very enthusiastic, prayerful, mature Christian who is very reluctant to part with his money. He is still struggling to give good measure.

(4) Do we realise that the foundations are for the most part hidden? It is quite possible to live in obedience to Jesus without others realising the extent of our compliance to his mind and will. Jesus told his disciples to give secretly. The left hand shouldn't know what the right is doing. We are instructed to pray in secret. If we fast or otherwise deny ourselves it shouldn't show. It is difficult to assess the quality of a man's faith and integrity. Someone people worry secretly and others are so subtly devious that their duplicity is never detected.

(D) The two builders.

There is a great contrast between the builders of the two houses:

(1) The man who built his house upon the sand was in a hurry. He was impatient to have something to show for his labours. No-one is very interested in foundations!

There is a tendency for apparent Christians to want instant rewards in terms of attention, significance and status. They love the excitement of being welcomed into the church as a new convert, being made much of and fussed over. It is not long before this type of shallow professor is telling everyone that the Lord has called him to be drummer in a Christian rock band - or some such unusual but attention grabbing enterprise.

The man who builds his house upon the rock does not rush into a high profile kind of Christian service. He will take time to read, digest and follow the instructions laid down for converts in God's word. We can usually save ourselves a lot of trouble when taking possession of new equipment by reading the maker's manual.

(2) The man who built his house upon the sand wanted to do it the quick and easy way. I found during my long career as a teacher that there were always pupils who desired exam success without the long, hard, boring process of revision. I have no sympathy with academics who pretend that Science is fun and easy. Hard work and much thought is needed to get a degree in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine.

Christians who expect to get to heaven on 'flowery beds of ease' are unlikely to stay the course. They resemble the seed that falls on stony ground - lacking depth their profession withers and dies as soon as trouble comes.

The builder who digs down to solid rock for his foundation is prepared to work hard. No-one is saved by their works but no-one is saved without works. James is correct to write that faith without deeds is dead. See exposition on James2v14to25. To adopt the Beatitudes of Jesus as the basis upon which to build your life is to take on a great challenge! However, it is a sure foundation for a life that is going to withstand troubles and trials and be put to the ultimate test on the Day of Judgment.

(3) The man who built upon the sand was probably more concerned with how his house looked than how it would stand up to the storms of life.

I sometimes do some painting at Brockley Cricket Club under the supervision of Mouser Martin. His advice is always along these lines: "Don't worry too much about rubbing down the surface - just slap some paint on. That'll make it look better."

The approach of my friend Jesse's painter was very different. He took the redecoration of Jesse's kitchen seriously. Jesse said he took ages rubbing down the walls - carefully preparing them for the first coat of paint. He wanted to make a good job of it.

Some Christians are much preoccupied with appearances and what others think of them. Their main aim is to be nice and well thought of by everybody. They are not vitally concerned with the truth, especially if it is going to bring them into conflict with others. But the truth, however uncomfortable, is the bedrock upon which genuine Christian lives are built.

Superficially attractive lives might impress lots of people here on earth - rather like the hastily painted changing room walls of Brockley Cricket Club - but they will not deceive the Heavenly Architect.

(4) The man who got his house up quickly by building on the sand probably wanted to spend time on other things. Once the hard work was finished there would be more time to enjoy life. My brother Philip has this sort of attitude. He told me once, "I never do any painting or decorating. Life's too short to waste on things like that!"

Apparent Christians rather quickly develop a comfortable Christian persona. They have a conversion experience, a few favourite texts - comforting as opposed to challenging Scriptures - and get into the set routine of attending church once on a Sunday where they enjoy the company of friends just like them. This kind of professor does not see the Christian life as a race to be won. It is more like a leisurely stroll round the garden. Their experience is far removed from that of John Bunyan's Christian on his way to the Celestial City. Not for them the Slough of Despond, The Hill called Difficulty, The Lions in the Way, Doubting Castle, Vanity Fair, Appolyon and the Valley of Humiliation. The Christians who build upon the sand are unlikely to take much responsibility in the church - most of their time is taken up with pleasing themselves.

The man who follows the architect's instructions and builds on the rock will make slow progress. He soon discovers that building his house is a life's work.

Christian service should take up a lot of our time! There are many ways to serve Jesus. We sometimes need to take stock and ask ourselves : "How have I pleased Jesus today? What have I done for Jesus this week? Who have I prayed for? Who have I helped? Who have I visited?" If we are good and faithful servants we are not going to have too much time left over!

(E) Conclusion

My life doesn't amount to much. It is a bit like a grubby, little, shack - neither impressive nor attractive. I am even sometimes a little envious of others whose lives are so much grander than mine. Some Christians have so much - family who love them, numerous friends, success, popularity and respect. But in the end all will depend upon what happens when the rain comes down, the streams rise and the wind beats upon our house.

The Final Judgment will reveal the foundation upon which our lives are built. Christ the True Judge will pronounce upon whether we have done the will of the Father in heaven or not. If we haven't our lives will be destroyed just as surely as the great storm destroyed the house built upon the sand. If we have - then we shall stand both for time and eternity.

          Build on the Rock, the Rock that ever stands,
          Oh, build on the Rock, and not upon the sands;
          You need not fear the storm, or the earthquake shock,
          You're safe for evermore if you build on the Rock.