Summer School

Upon the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount- Discourse 13 - A Devotional Paraphrase

Sermon 33 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley
By: Michael Roberts

Matthew 7:21-27

“Building on Solid Rock”


In this great sermon, Jesus has led us into the core teachings for children of God, and now he closes with these weighty words, setting a seal to his prophecy for all generations. In this conclusion to the series, we will consider what it means to build our spiritual house either on sand or upon rock.

Those who are foolish build their spiritual house on sand. This metaphor is used for those who hear the word of God but do put them into practice. Jesus elaborates by saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” We cannot think of going to heaven by any other way than the way Jesus has just described. We certainly cannot think we will enter the kingdom by “verbal religion.” This includes all creeds, professions of faith, and prayers we may repeat. We may speak good of God and declare his love. We may be able to explain all mysteries of his kingdom. We may speak with the tongues of angels. And still it is possible that all this is no more than saying, “Lord, Lord.” I may successfully preach to others, and lead many to salvation, and still be a castaway myself. I may bring many to the kingdom of God but my words, in themselves, will not bring me into the kingdom.

Likewise, we may practice the principle of “do no harm.” We may abstain from every outward wickedness, and still not be justified. We may also engage in many good works. We may attend to the Lord’s Supper, hear an abundance of sermons, do good to our neighbor, feed the hungry, and still have no part in the glory of God.

If this shocks you, then you may need to entertain the thought that you are a stranger to the whole religion of Jesus Christ. As clearly as possible, Jesus says that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven without this kingdom at work within us. Yes, many will come to me on that day, says Jesus, and talk about all the prayers they have said, and how they refrained from doing evil, and how they did good works, and Christ may still say, “You cannot enter until your heart is right, until the image of God is renewed within you. Everyone who relies on their own righteousness, their own good works, their own religion, is like one who builds a house on sand. The rains descend and the floods come, and the wind blows, and “splat” the house falls down. So, it is with us if we trust in our own outward righteousness and religion. The storms of pride, anger, fear, and desire will be too great to withstand.

In contrast, the wise build their spiritual home on the rock. Drawing from the well of this sermon, the wise are the poor in Spirit, the ones who know they do not have the resources to give life to themselves. They are aware of their sin and guilt, and of the perfect love of Christ, demonstrated and given on the cross. They desire to be peace-makers, and with the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit, their wisdom is marked by humility, gentleness, and patience to all, never “returning evil for evil.” They hunger and thirst for nothing on earth, but only for the living God. They are filled with the love of God for all, and even willing – because they see through the lens of eternity – to love their enemies. They clearly see that the purpose of humankind is to glorify God and to love God and enjoy God’s blessings forever.

The rock is Christ. In terms of character, he does not change. As everything else comes to an end, he remains and will not fail. On this rock, we are justified by grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, and the life we now live, we live by faith in him, who loves us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). On this rock, we build lives of holiness and happiness, lives of love for both God and humankind, doing all to the glory of God.

Yet let no one think that this life shields us from the storms of temptation. These storms may even be more severe because we know Christ. The floods will come. The winds will blow. But they can’t prevail over this foundation. Those who build on Christ by faith and love shall not be torn down.

Each of us must apply these words to ourselves, examining on what foundation we are building our lives. Rock or sand? Are you building on “orthodoxy, or right opinions, which, by a gross abuse of words, I have called faith?” We may belong to the best church, with the purest doctrine, the most inspired liturgy, and the most biblical form of government in our estimation, but if we build our faith upon this set of beliefs and perspectives, we are building on sand, or rather “on the froth of the sea!” It is madness to build on such opinions, supposing that we are more scriptural than others and using scripture to divide and bring harm. These means may help us to grow in holiness, but they are not holiness themselves.

We should not stop here as we consider sandy foundations. We can also try to build upon our innocence, our doing no harm, our doing good works like feeding the hungry, and visiting the sick. You can add to these attempts all the ordinances of God – partaking the Lord’s Supper, public and private prayer, fasting, searching the scriptures daily. These are blessings that can set our face towards heaven, but alone they are nothing. If not means to faith, mercy, and love of God, they are tools for building on sand.

Therefore, build upon the rock. By the grace of God, know yourself. See yourselves as “poor in spirit.” Mourn with those who mourn, mourn for the sins and miseries of humankind, weep for your sins until God turns your heaviness to joy. Then add the meekness that allows you to be gentle and patient with others. Hunger and thirst, not for meat that perishes, but for that which endures to eternal life. Focus not on riches, honors, and pleasures of the world. And beware of trying to quench this hunger with what is vulgarly called religion – that poor, dull, farce, a religion of form, of outward show, which leaves the heart still cleaving to the dust. Let nothing satisfy you but the power of godliness, a true religion of spirit and life, the dwelling in God and God in you.

Knowing that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, be merciful as God is merciful. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love friends and enemies as your own soul. And let this love be patient, without rash judgment and with hope. Let this love be “kind, soft, benign, inspiring you with the most amiable sweetness, and the most fervent and tender affection.” Let this love rejoice in truth, the truth that is focused on godliness, and on the virtues that reveal God. Cover all things in this love that hopes all things, endures all things, and never fails in time or in eternity.

Next, be pure in heart, purified through faith from every unholy affection, from pride, from anger, from every unkind and turbulent passion, by meekness and mercifulness. In a word: Let your religion be a religion of the heart – a heart filled with grace and peace towards all people, while at the same time, hungry for God, the living God, longing to grow in his likeness. Show your faith by your works, by doing the will of your Father who is in heaven. And as sure as you now walk with God on earth, you shall also reign with God in glory. That’s what it means to build upon the rock. It is to see this whole sermon on the mount as your resource and motivation. The wise ones build their home upon this rock. Amen.