The Sermon on the Mount—‘Hear These Sayings, and Do Them’
JESUS concluded the Sermon on the Mount with a twofold illustration: “Therefore everyone that hears these sayings of mine and does them will be likened to a discreet man, who built his house upon the rockmass. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and lashed against that house, but it did not cave in, for it had been founded upon the rock-mass.”—Matt. 7:24, 25; compare Luke 6:47, 48.
The expression “these sayings of mine” refers to the things taught in the Sermon on the Mount. “Everyone that hears” those sayings does not mean only those who actually were present for Jesus’ great discourse. Included also are all who later hear by word of mouth and by reading his famous sermon. However, lasting benefits result only to the one who both hears “and does” what Jesus encouraged.
This does not mean merely performing acts of worship, self-denial and charity that others can admire. Few could match the zeal of the Pharisees for such things. Yet their acts were done hypocritically and meant nothing to God. (Note Matthew 6:1, 2, 5, 16.) Rather than emphasizing deeds that are visible to humans, Jesus urged his listeners to transform themselves from within, cultivating dispositions of mind and heart that truly please God. For example, the Son of God admonished his audience to recognize their spiritual poverty and need for God (Matt. 5:3), to develop mildness of temper toward God and fellow humans (Matt. 5:5), to be lovers of righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and peaceable. (Matt. 5:6-9) Persons who heed this counsel will develop a truly godlike personality. This will manifest itself in “fine works” that shine brilliantly to the glory of God. This includes being activated, as were many of Jesus’ listeners at that time, to proclaim the “good news” to others.—Matt. 5:14-16; compare Colossians 3:10, 16.
The person who is “discreet” (discerning, showing good judgment, prudent) builds his house “upon the rock-mass,” a large body of rock such as a mountain, cliff or large rock-shelf. The house solidly fixed to a rock foundation will remain intact during violent storms. “Rain” and “floods” (which occur suddenly in torrent valleys during a cloudburst) will not sweep away its foundation.a “Winds” lashing at it from all sides will not cause that house to topple. It will not “cave in” during a storm.
In a figurative sense, building one’s house on the rock-mass means molding one’s thoughts, motivations and subsequent deeds according to the whole body of “these sayings of mine,” as found in the Sermon on the Mount. Adversities that strike suddenly like a violent storm in Palestine cannot wash away such a solid foundation for godly conduct. It is during times of hardship that the doer of Jesus’ words ‘will become like’ (or prove himself to be like) the discreet builder on a rock foundation. The personality traits and qualities that he has developed in accordance with God’s Word will not “cave in” under trialsome circumstances. He will not quit his service to God.
On the other hand, Jesus went on to say: “Everyone hearing these sayings of mine and not doing them will be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and struck against that house and it caved in, and its collapse was great.”—Matt. 7:26, 27; compare Luke 6:49.
In the land where Jesus carried out his ministry, it would be foolish to build a house on sand. Rain, floods and violent winds would make short work of such a structure. ‘Its collapse would be great’—thorough and beyond repair.
Something similar will happen figuratively to the one “hearing these sayings of mine and not doing them.” Such a one bases his life, not on obedience to teachings of Christ, but on selfish disobedience to Christ’s sayings that, like sand, washes away in a flood. During tranquil days, when life is largely trouble free, such an individual may be able to conceal his lack of godly qualities. But as soon as hardships strike, he “will be likened,” or prove himself to be like, the foolish builder on sand. As far as any pretense of being a servant of God is concerned, stormy adversities will cause him to buckle and suffer a ‘great collapse.’ In discussing the need to replace wrong thoughts and motivations with correct ones, so as to become a happy ‘doer of God’s work,’ Bible writer James gave counsel similar to that of Jesus:
“Become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning. For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, this one is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, and off he goes and immediately forgets what sort of man he is. But he who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and who persists in it, this man, because he has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, will be happy in his doing it.”—Jas. 1:22-25.
Next, Matthew’s Gospel account adds: “Now when Jesus finished these sayings, the effect was that the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.”—Matt. 7:28, 29.
Jesus’ “way of teaching,” that is, the whole body of instruction in the Sermon on the Mount, brought astonishment to his hearers. It was not the type of teaching that they were accustomed to getting from “their scribes,” who were learned in Jewish oral tradition. When the scribes taught something, they spoke it “in the name of” some previous authority. In this regard, we read in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:
“The term mish·shum [in the name of”] is important in Jewish tradition. R[abbi] Meir speaks a parable in the name (mish·shum) of Rabban Gamaliel, . . . He who heard something in the house of instruction and passed it on was obliged to quote the authority to which he appealed, in whose name he passed on the tradition. One of the 48 conditions for acquiring the Torah is that ‘one pronounces every saying in the name of its author . . . ,’ Ab[oth], 6, 6; cf. Meg[illah], 15a. This shows what or how much authority the statement has.”
A rabbinic account relates that Hillel the Great, who lived during the first century C.E., taught a particular tradition correctly. “But, although he discoursed of that matter all day long, they received not his doctrine, until he said at last, So I heard from Shemaia and Abtalion [authorities previous to Hillel].”
Jesus did not teach that way. Rather than speaking in the name of another human, the Son of God often declared: “Truly I say to you,” “However, I say to you.” (See, for example, Matthew 5:18, 20, 22, 26, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44.) He spoke as “a person having authority,” one who directly represented God, as was the case with inspired prophets of pre-Christian times. (Compare Matthew 28:18.) How thankful we can be that God has seen fit to have this great discourse recorded in his inspired Word!
a For an account of how quickly storms and destructive floods can arise in Palestine, see the modern-day experience recorded in Awake! of April 8, 1970, p. 24.