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Matthew 7:24-29 “Conclusion, Part 4: Two Foundations”

“’Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a prudent man who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended and the rivers came and the winds blew and fell against that house, and it fell not; because it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone hearing these words of Mine and not doing them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended and the rivers came and the wind blew and stumbled against that house, and it fell; and its fall was great.’

And it happened that when Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed upon His teaching. Because He was teaching as having authority and not as their scribes.

We have arrived at Jesus’ conclusion where His extensive teaching finally reaches a climax. Yet, there is more than mere conclusion here. The final six verses of Matthew chapter 7 include not only the final words of Jesus’ SM, but also reveal the crowd’s response to Jesus. It is important to remind ourselves of the larger context of Matthew’s gospel and the purpose to which he writes. Namely, to present Jesus as the Messianic King and call for undivided and exclusive faithfulness to Him. In other words: Follow Jesus alone. Between Jesus’ decisive conclusion (vv. 24-27) and the crowd’s response (vv. 28-29), Matthew makes two things crystal clear: (1) Trusting Jesus is the only means of eternal salvation and (2) Jesus is unlike any of His contemporaries or predecessors.

Salvation by Following Jesus Alone (vv. 24-27)

This final paragraph of Jesus’ SM brings the whole sum of His teaching to bear. “Therefore” (οὖν) draws specifically from the three paragraphs that precede: The two gates (vv. 13-14), the two trees (vv. 15-20), and the two claims (vv. 21-23). This is the climax of Jesus’ conclusion and thus the climax of the entire sermon.

Jesus presents this climax in two nearly identical statements with only a few differences between them. The one who both hears and does Jesus’ words (vv. 24-25) is mentioned and described in 46 Greek words. The foolish counterpart (vv. 26-27) is a very close mirror image as he is described in 48 words. Careful examination of these two mirrored statements reveals that they are 78% identical. Yet, as any exegete knows, it is not the similarities that matter so much as the differences. By placing these statements side-by-side, the significances of these differences becomes apparent.

Two Responses (vv. 24a, 26a)

“’Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them… And everyone hearing these words of Mine and not doing them.

Even at a glance, it becomes obvious that the phrase “these words of Mine” drives this text. Not only does Jesus emphasize the fact that these words are His words (μου τοὺς λόγους τούτους), but the fact that these statements appear at the very end of His sermon indicates that He looks back at all that He has said thus far and presents it as a single unit before His audience. Thus, in this context, “these words of Mine” = the SM. Jesus has just made an extremely bold and decisive statement regarding His words. Note the following observations: (1) Jesus marks the one who does (ποιέω) His words as the one who will be saved from the storm and the one who does them not as the one who will lose everything. This is the same concept using the same verb (ποιέω) used of the Father’s will in v. 21. In other words, Jesus is consciencely and purposefully equating His words (consisting at this time of the SM) as the Father’s will. (2) This statement concludes a development of ποιέω (to do/make/bear) throughout the SM. (a) The verb has been used no less than 22x throughout the sermon, introduced in Jesus’ thesis statement regarding those who both do and teach all of God’s commandments being called great in the kingdom of heaven (5:19). (b) Jesus returns to this verb of doing in His summary statement of the Law and the Prophets (7:12). (c) The verb is used 9x (41% of total uses in the SM) in Jesus’ conclusion (7:13-27) alone. For Jesus, doing His words is not only the same as doing the Father’s will and obeying the Law and the Prophets, but doing is what marks His disciples as distinct from everyone else. (3) Jesus makes no distinction between His various teachings as to what is of higher priority than others but presents the whole of His teaching as a unit that is either obeyed or rejected as such. There is a lot of different topics covered in these 107 verses which contain 50 imperatives with numerous attached implications and directives. Jesus never stresses a single point more than another. His audience will do all that He commands, or they will reject all He commands with no middle ground in view. In short, Jesus has now officially and overtly claimed that His words are to be treated as God-breathed scripture and thus are to be carefully and completely obeyed.

As for His audience, Jesus has been addressing His disciples specifically (5:1c-2) but the larger crowds were there as well (5:1a). Even in the designation of the audience we begin to see the demarcation between the many and the few. In both statements Jesus acknowledges that both His disciples and the crowd hear His words (the SM and everything else that He will say), yet the first group responds by doing those same words while the second group does not.

Regarding the first group (v. 24a) Jesus speaks of those who both hear and do His words. Both verbs are present tense indicatives (ἀκούει…ποιεῖ), indicating those who make their custom or habit to both hear and do. In fact, there is a sense that the doing is a natural and immediate result of the hearing. This is one of many themes from the SM that James picks up on (Jam. 1:22-25). The first response is therefore a response of obedience in faith. They heard Jesus’ words, trusted Him, and then acted upon them.

The second group appears to be like the first yet are vastly different in every way that matters. They too hear the words of Jesus, yet they do not obey them. The same verbal roots are used as before, but this time Jesus uses present participles to identify them even more closely with these actions. They are hearers (ὁ ἀκούων) but they are not doers (μὴ ποιῶν). This second response is that of unbelieving disobedience. They hear the same words but fail to trust Him and refuse to act upon them.

As before, Jesus mentions only these two groups for there is no third. It is also worth noting that everyone on the mountain top is roped in to one of these two groups. They have all heard the words of Jesus. Will they believe and obey them? The same is true of every person who has read our Lord’s words. There is a world of difference between hearing/reading and doing/obeying as Jesus will continue to develop.

Two Builders (vv. 24b, 26b)

Will be like a prudent man… will be like a foolish man.

Jesus uses the same future indicative ὁμοιωθήσεται (to make/be like, compare with) of both parties. The first is compared to a prudent man. Many English versions read “wise” here, but the term used is not σοφός/σοφία (wise/wisdom) which is so often associated with the Hebrew חָכְמָה (wisdom, skill, experience) but φρόνιμος, a term that describes one’s insight and understanding (sensible, thoughtful, prudent, shrewd, cunning).[1] The difference is subtle but important. A wise (σοφός, חָכְמָה) man can translate theoretical knowledge into practical application. The prudent (φρόνιμος) man reads a situation and reacts accordingly. The one who hears Jesus’ words and obeys them is prudent, because he recognizes these words as the words of life and thus reacts accordingly.

The opposite of a prudent man is the fool (μωρός). The term is where we get our English term of endearment “moron”. One who is μωρός is foolish or stupid in that they act and live contrary to all sense and reason. To hear the words of Jesus, God’s Messiah, and King of the universe and then to not obey them is the height of folly. This is brought out in vivid detail as Jesus continues.

Two Foundations (vv. 24c, 26c)

Who built his house upon the rock… who built his house upon the sand.

Careful and precise reading is necessary at this point, for Jesus has again slipped into metaphorical language. Both individuals (the one who hears and does as well as the one who hears only) are likened to builders of houses. The language is identical with the exception of their choice foundation. The first builds his house upon the rock (ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν) while the second builds his house upon the sand (ἐπὶ τὴν ἄμμον). As far as the illustration is concerned, the picture itself proves the point of prudence vs. folly, for only a moron, a true imbecile, would build on sand. Thus, only a moron, a true imbecile would hear Jesus’ words and not do them. But is this the extent of Jesus’ meaning?

That both individuals are likened to builders is worthy of note. While the shades of emphasis vary,[2] both are described according to their practices and lifestyles. It seems that these houses are metaphors for their lives; the decisions they make, their treatment of others, what they value, etc. Yet the aorist verb ᾠκοδόμησεν translated simply (and accurately) as “built” does not stress the timing of the action but only the fact of the action. In other words, while the houses seem to stand for their lives, Jesus does not stress the process of building but takes His audience to the finished project.

This brings us to understand what Jesus means by “the rock” and “the sand”. Jesus’ emphasis on “these words of Mine” should make this an easy task, for the rock is none other than Jesus’ words. All that we’ve already said regarding Jesus’ connection of His teaching to God’s will and Scripture is brought to bear now. Jesus’ words are the rock. Because He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (5:17) and His words are an explanation and exposition of the Law and the Prophets (7:12), His words will stand forever like the Law and the Prophets (5:18). The prudent man is one who builds his life believing what Jesus has claimed and obeying what Jesus has commanded.

If we keep the context of Jesus’ conclusion in mind, identifying “the sand” should likewise be no difficult task. The term “sand” (ἄμμος) is almost universally used in the Scriptures to indicate a vast, numerous, and otherwise incalculable number (Gen. 22:17; 32:12; 41:49; Josh. 11:4; Judg. 7:12; 1 Sam. 13:5; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Kings 4:29; Ps. 78:27; 139:18; Hos. 1:10; Hab. 1:9; Is. 10:22; 48:19; Jer. 15:8; Rom. 9:27; Heb. 11:12; Rev. 20:8). Like the wide gate, the evil fruit, and the many who claim Christ, the sand simply indicates anything and everything that is not Christ and His word. It matters not how close to the rock one builds his life, for “close to” is not the same as “upon”. The scribes and Pharisees were quite close to kingdom righteousness for they at least began with the Scriptures (5:21-48). Yet, to each of their misrepresentations Jesus challenged their tradition with the simple statement “but I tell you…” (5:22, 28, 32, 34, 37, 39, 44). The strategy for horseshoes and hand grenades is not applicable here. Their folly is expressed not so much in their choice of sand so much as it is in their failure to build upon the rock.[3]

Two Tests (vv. 25ab, 27ab)

And the rain descended and the rivers came and the winds blew and fell against that house… And the rain descended and the rivers came and the wind blew and stumbled against that house.

Each of these houses (the lives of each builder) are tested via tempest. The storm that tests each house is thorough and decisive, revealing the wisdom or folly of one’s choice of building site. It is best to consider this storm in eschatological terms rather than allegorizing it to mean “the storms of life”, for to do so ignores the consistent eschatological thrust of Jesus’ conclusion up to this point. He began by telling of the way that leads to life vs. the way that leads to destruction (vv. 13-14). He went on to foresee the ultimate burning of every tree that fails to produce good fruit (v. 20). Most recently, Jesus addressed those who are barred entry from the kingdom of heaven (v. 21). This storm is an eschatological storm as indicated by Jesus’ allusion to Ezek. 13:8-16. In the end, one’s foundation will be revealed.

While certainly eschatological in a cosmic sense, there is also a personal eschatology in view. Jesus’ words also resemble statements made in Prov. 10:25; 12:7; 14:1, 11. Whether one’s house stands or falls does not need to wait for the final judgment but is immediately evident upon one’s final breath. In any case, Jesus’ point is simple: in the end, the house will stand or fall based on what it has been built upon.

As the new Moses completes this giving of New Covenant law, Jesus concludes His sermon in a similar blessing/cursing formula as Moses in Deuteronomy. Just as the nation of Israel was exhorted to hear and obey (Deut. 5:1, 27; 6:4; 30:11-14; 31:12-13) resulting in corresponding blessing and cursing (Deut. 27:11-26; 28:3-6, 16-19), so Jesus exhorts His audience.

The language of these two storms is nearly identical as Jesus describes the initial rain descending. Too much to be soaked into the ground, a flash flood results when rivers of water begin to form. If this were not enough, the wind blows to add to the destructive force of the storm. It is here that Jesus changes His description of the storm against the first house and the second. Jesus states that the wind fell against (from προσπίπτω) the house of the prudent man and that the wind stumbled against (from προσκόπτω) the house of the fool. The verb in v. 27 is almost exclusively translated as stumble (Matt. 4:6; Lk. 4:11; Jn. 11:9, 10; Rom. 9:32; 14:21; 1 Pet. 2:8) and seems to have less force than the term used in v. 25 of the wind against the prudent man’s house.[4] The significance of this change is understood by the results of the storm.

Two Results (vv. 25c, 27c)

And it fell not; because it had been founded upon the rock… and it fell; and its fall was great.

Jesus uses a play on words regarding the result of the prudent man’s house. The winds fell against (προσπίπτω) that house and yet it fell (πίπτω) not. The point is that the full brunt of the storm did its worst and the house withstood the might of the tempest. Jesus reveals the cause (γὰρ) for this strength. The house remains because, from the very beginning, it was founded upon the rock. A life built on the rock of Jesus’ words, believing all He claims and obeying all He commands, is a life that will not fall.

Not so the life built on anything else. The three startling words in English “and it fell” translates only two in the Greek (καὶ ἔπεσεν). The wind did not even gain its full force but simply stumbled against (προσέκοψαν) that house and it collapsed. Jesus does not bother to explain why it fell, as He did before. That point is obvious. Rather, He underlines the fact that its destruction was catastrophic: and its fall was great (καὶ ἦν ἡ πτῶσις αὐτῆς μεγάλη). There is nothing left to rebuild or remodel for the whole structure, every stick, stone, and beam has been washed away. With this final word, the sermon ends.

Jesus is Utterly Unique (vv. 28-29)

Matthew transitions from Jesus’ sermon back to his narrative with a construction that is strange in Greek (καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς). This is the first of five uses in Matthew’s gospel of this exact construction (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). Note that this construction concludes each of Jesus’ five major discourses and is thus used by Matthew as the transition point from Jesus’ teaching to the narrative that follows. Regarding the larger context of the King’s Authority (Matt. 4:23-9:35), we’ve reached the center hinge point. This transition moves from Jesus’ teaching to the crowd’s response.

An Amazed Response (v. 28)

And it happened that when Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed upon His teaching.

Three observations are to be made. First, Matthew purposefully repeats the phrase “these words” (τοὺς λόγους τοὺτους) from vv. 24, 26. He did not say “when Jesus stopped speaking” but “when Jesus finished these words.” That he refers to the SM in its entirety with emphasis on this shocking conclusion is obvious. But that is not the extent of Matthew’s meaning. All that Jesus poured into that same phrase (identity with the Father’s will, equality with Scripture, necessity of belief and obedience) is maintained by Matthew. This is the point of decision. Jesus has completed “these words” and everyone present has heard them. Now we will see if they proceed to do them.

Second, by referring to the crowds Matthew circles back to his introduction to Jesus’ sermon (5:1-2). While Jesus had been speaking directly to His disciples who gathered around Him (5:1c) the crowds were near enough to hear what was being said. We expect that the few disciples (consisting at this time of only Peter, Andrew, James, and John for certain) will respond positive. But what of the many within the crowd?

Finally, the crowd’s response is not positive. Matthew tells us that they “were amazed” (ἐξεπλήσσοντο). The verb from ἐκπλήσσω literally means to be struck out of one’s senses. A modern equivalent is that they were blown away by what they heard. The imperfect tense is used to convey their ongoing state of amazement. The sense of being blown away continued as they went home and considered all these words of Jesus. Yet, amazement is not what Jesus called for. Matthew uses the same prepositional phrase to describe the foundation of their amazement (ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ) used by Jesus to state the house built upon the rock (ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν) and the house built upon the sand (ἐπὶ τὴν ἄμμον). The call was to hear and obey, to build upon the rock. To simply be amazed upon this teaching is at best indecisive. Indecision is the same as a decision to build upon something other than the rock. Matthew does not overtly state that the crowds rejected Jesus, yet he subtly hints that neither did they trust and obey. For now, they remain amazed in a haze of indecision. The next verse tells us why.

An Authoritative Rationale (v. 29)

Because He was teaching as having authority and not as their scribes.

The causal γὰρ explains why the crowds were so shocked out of their wits. This Jesus was one was teaching as having authority (ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων). Jesus’ claim to authority was evident to all with each pronouncement of blessing, each “I tell you” statement, and each demand for personal obedience. If nothing else, the crowd understood that Jesus claimed to possess personal authority. This will become the next major theme of Matthew’s gospel. The narrative to come will prove that Jesus’ claim of authority is real as He soothes the symptoms of the curse (8:1-17), subdues the infected elements of the curse (8:23-9:8), and undoes the results of the curse (9:18-34).

His authority was not at all like their scribes. Their teaching was evasive while Jesus spoke truth. They reveled in irrelevant minutia while Jesus addressed things that matter. They droned on and on, going down obscure rabbit trails while Jesus spoke systematically, efficiently, and logically. They were continually referring to previous generations of scholars and teachers, never going beyond them or correcting them while Jesus emphatically states “but I tell you…[5] Jesus is nothing like their scribes. And this is precisely the point.

Matthew does not say “as the scribes” but “as their scribes” (ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν). The scribes are not associated with Jesus or His disciples, but with the crowds. They are forced to make a decision and that decision cannot remain in the realm of amazement and wonder. Jesus explicitly told them that their scribes possess a righteousness that is insufficient to enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20). Will they continue to build their lives on the teaching of their scribes? Or will they leave everything behind and follow Jesus alone?

[1] The same adjective (φρόνιμος) is used in the LXX to describe the serpent in the garden (Gen. 3:1) as well as Jesus’ admonition to His disciples (Matt. 10:16). It is not that the term indicates something evil, but that the difference between “prudence” and “cunning” is really that of context. In either case, it is best not to translate this term as “wise” in order to avoid confusion with σοφός/σοφία/חָכְמָה.

[2] The present indicatives (ἀκούει…ποιεῖ) of v. 24 communicate what this man regularly practices while the present participles (ὁ ἀκούων…μὴ ποιῶν) of v. 26 reveal who this man is.

[3] Morris, p. 182.

[4] Lenski, p. 313.

[5] Hendriksen, p. 383.

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