The following is taken from a sermon series preached at The Southeast Project. You can listen to the audio of this teaching on our sermon audio page at www.wearesoutheast.org
The Jewish people in Jesus’s day had a prayer they would say: SHEMA YISRAEL, ADONAI ELOHEINU, ADONAI ECHAD. BARUKH SHEM KEVOD MALKHUTO LE’OLAN VA’ED:
4Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
In the Hebrew language, SHEMA, the first word in that prayer, was the word used for hearing and listening. They didn’t have a word for obey because it was assumed. If you heard something you didn’t just hear it, you listened and responded. To hear was to what was said.
I remember a story when I was growing up. The story is one of those family stories that gets told over and over again, so the details changed over time, but you will get the point.
My mom’s family was from Slovakia, and her parents would speak Slovak at home when she was growing up. There were 8 of them in my mom’s family, her parents and her five sisters. I am trying to raise two girls, I don’t know how my grandpa raised six.
One day, my Grandpa was headed out to the store. I assume he wanted to get out of the house and experience some quiet. They didn’t have earbuds back then so maybe driving in the car was the next best thing. On his way, out my Grandma yelled out to him in Slovak to get some ZMRZLINA. But he didn’t hear ZMRZLINA. What my Grandpa heard was SLANINA.
So he goes to the store and picks up a few pounds of SLANINA and heads home. Feeling accomplished for having listened to my grandmother, Grandpa was surprised that she was upset when he came back from the store with dessert and walked in with bacon instead of ice cream.
Just because you are hearing doesn’t mean you are listening. This is the point Jesus made.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Now, what’s fascinating about this story is that about a hundred miles to the South in the city of Jerusalem, a national project was taking place. King Herod was overseeing a project to have the temple rebuilt. This was a big deal in Jerusalem and for all of Israel and the Jewish people. The advertising for the temple, the propaganda, was that it was going to be an absolute monument. They talked about this temple as God’s House. They declared that it was built upon the rock.
Now, two things about that: First, not long after this, Jesus was teaching his disciples when he asked an important question. He had been asking the disciples about how people thought of him and what he was trying to do with his teaching. Then he says this:
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
So while everyone else was talking about a temple in Jerusalem being built on a rock, Jesus claimed that the church, the gathering of his followers, was built on a different kind of rock. And this rock was this belief in who Jesus was, what he taught, and how he lived his life.
Not long after this, Jesus was teaching again, this time near that temple being built. As he taught, he called out all the people who claimed to follow God but didn’t live like it at all. These were the religious leaders who wanted this temple built. To these people the brick and mortar of the temple mattered but what it stood for meant nothing. The temple was supposed to be a sign of a people who were following God, yet while they knew the words of the scriptures, they weren’t really applying them to their lives. This is what Jesus pointed out over and over and over again.
Jesus talked about these leaders and the way the way interpreted scripture as stealing life. They were greedy, judgmental, and unforgiving. This kind of faith doesn’t have a real foundation. It can’t survive. And this is what Jesus does as his disciples stand in awe of the temple.
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
This statement was revolutionary. This statement made a lot of people mad because the people of that day could not imagine life without this temple, without the systems in their lives, without things continuing the way they have always been. And here’s the thing, their were teachers were great teachers who knew the scriptures. They memorized passages and had rules to follow. However, they didn’t really listen. Their faith, built as a temple, had a weak foundation because it didn’t really mean anything in their lives. It didn’t change anything about how they lived.
Jesus stepped into this world and showed us a different way to live but what we’ve discovered is that while we may know the words of Jesus we’ve often become numb to what they mean. We become just like these temple builders, hearing the words of Jesus, but doing nothing about it.
Jesus described a different kind of faith. The faith Jesus described is a faith of being someone different in the world. This isn’t a faith of knowledge, it’s a faith of becoming. This kind of faith survives the storms of life. It isn’t easily broken or torn down. It’s the kind of faith we all need.
As we close, I want to read a passage from the book of James. Now, this book was written by the brother of Jesus. Imagine that, your brother claiming to be the Savior of the World. You would probably be the most cynical person in his life, especially after he died. And at first James was unsure, but he went on to follow Jesus and trust him with his life. He saw and experienced Jesus’s resurrection, and went on to start churches. To one of those churches, he wrote these words:
James 1:22-25 (N.T. Wrights- The Kingdom New Testament Translation)
22 But be people who do the word, not merely people who hear it and deceive themselves. 23 Someone who hears the word but doesn’t do it, you see, is like a man who looks at his own natural face in a mirror. 24 He notices himself, but then he goes away and quickly forgets what he looked like. 25 But the person who looks into the perfect law of freedom, and goes on with it, not being a hearer who forgets but a doer who does the deed—such a person is blessed in their doing.
When James says, “But the person who looks into the perfect law of freedom,” it’s his really cool way of describing the way of Jesus, and the way of Jesus is a promise that in his words we would find life. That’s what being blessed is about. It’s not a promise that life will be perfect, but it is a promise that when life’s storms hit, you will have a foundation that doesn’t wash away. This is a foundation of God’s love, your love, and the love of the community of God’s church. Nothing that comes up against that foundation that can break it.
Listen to how Matthew closed up the Sermon on the Mount:
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
And, that is the end of the Sermon on the Mount. We could probably go back to the beginning and start over again and again and again because following Jesus isn’t easy, but it matters. Jesus was showing the world a new way to live. It was revolutionary, upside down, and life-changing but only if the people who were listening, listened.
Here is the challenge this last sentence gives us. We can read, think, and hear about Jesus words, or we can be doers of his words. We can be people who hear words about loving God and loving others or we can be people who truly love God and truly love others.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus painted a picture of a world that almost seemed impossible. He desired that that picture would capture our imaginations and we would be so caught up in it that we would begin to live this seemingly impossible way and change the world around us. As we’ve gone through this teaching of Jesus, I’ve felt surprised, challenged, convicted, amazed, and often I’ve often left with wonder about what it would look like if a group of people on the Southeast side of Indy would take this teaching seriously and begin to live it out. That was the point of Jesus. He expected his listeners not just to hear his words but to put them into practice.
And here is what I believe: If we begin to put his words into practice instead of just listening to them we will discover a new, incredible way to live in the world. If we truly hear and begin to live like Jesus teaches we will show the world a radical, generous faith will change us and the world around us in ways we could never even begin to imagine.
The reason this is true isn’t simply because they were words that were said. It’s because they were words said by Jesus. The crowds were amazed at his teaching because he had authority, unlike anything they had experienced before. Matthew is daring us to ask the same question: Does Jesus have this kind of authority in our lives? It sounds a lot like Jesus’s conversation with Peter.
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
So, what about you? Who is Jesus? Is he simply a good teacher or does Jesus have authority in your life? Is he the one who you’ve put your trust in? For some of us, we’ve never trusted anyone but ourselves. Jesus invites you to find a new way to live. If you’ve never put your faith in Jesus, I invite you to do that today.