Parables of Jesus: The Firm Foundation


The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most famous structures in the world—not because of its gently rising series of arches, but because of its legendary tilt. Construction began on the historic tower in 1173 (840 years ago) and lasted for nearly two centuries. But before the first three levels could be completed, it began to shift on its foundation ever so slightly. Gradually leaning further and further over the centuries, it’s now heralded as the most lopsided structure in the world. In fact, by 1990 the top to the tower was seventeen feet further south than the bottom. It was finally closed to the public for safety concerns and not reopened until 2008. During that time, engineers completed a 25 million dollar renovation project designed to stabilize the tower. They removed 110 tons of dirt, and reduced its legendary lean by about sixteen inches. What was the problem? Bad design? Poor workmanship? An inferior grade of marble? No. The problem was what was underneath. The sandy soil on which the city of Pisa was built was just not stable enough to support a monument of this size. The tower had no firm foundation.

Unfortunately the same can be said of some of us.

As Jesus brought his renowned Sermon on the Mount to a close, he ended it with a petite parable—a little illustration about foundations. Here’s what he said:


“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 NLT).


Only Jesus could get away with ending a sermon by telling his audience, “Listen and follow my teachings and you’ll be smart. Don’t, and you’re stupid.” But that’s essentially what he says. In this little analogy, Jesus uses three powerful images that are worth meditating on.




The first image is of the stone, or the solid rock. The stone in this story represents the words and teaching of Jesus, which ought to be the foundation and bedrock of our lives.

The opening words of the book of Hebrews says, “Long ago God spoke in many different ways to our fathers through the prophets, in visions, dreams, and even face-to-face, telling them little by little about his plans. But now in these days he has spoken to us through his Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2 TLB). The little red letters splashed across the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are Jesus’ words to the world and to you. But it’s not the red letters that belong to Jesus. It’s the black ones too. They’re all his. The whole Bible is God’s message to mankind.

More than just a biography about God and Jesus, the Bible is a guide for our lives. And that’s why it’s the best-selling book of all time. In fact, more than 100 million Bibles are sold each year. In 2009, the United Bible Societies gave away 431 million copies of the Bible throughout the world. Since the invention of the printing press, at least 12 billion Bibles have been published and distributed. To get a feel for the enormity of that figure, their publication would take nearly 9 million tons of paper, which would fill approximately 495,240 railroad cars, or a train 4,716 miles long. That’s a lot of Bibles!

But just because we have so many Bibles, doesn’t mean we know what they say. You’ve probably got several of them at home just collecting dust. David Nygren once said, “If all the neglected Bibles were dusted off simultaneously, we would have a record dust storm and the sun would be eclipsed for a whole week.”

In 2002, the Barna Research Group conducted a survey of self-identified Christians and here’s what he found about their knowledge of the Bible:

  • 48% could not name the four Gospels.
  • 52% cannot identify more than two or three of Jesus’ disciples.
  • 60% of American Christians can’t name even five of the 10 Commandments.
  • 61% of American Christians think the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.

George Barna concluded, “Americans revere the Bible, but by and large they don’t know what it says.” Which, I think, makes a lot of us like the drunken guy who was spotted by a police officer looking for something. The drunk was down on his hands and knees and explained in slurred speech to the police officer that he was looking for his wallet. The police officer inquired, “Well, where did you lose it?” The drunk motioned with his hand as he replied, “About half a block that way.” The confused and amused policeman asked, “Well, why are you searching here then?” The drunk replied, “There is no street light down there!”

We’re a lot like that sometimes. When we have questions about life, or trouble comes our way, or relationships fall apart, and we lose our way—sometimes we look for answers in all the wrong places. We turn to Dr. Phil or the latest self-help book, instead of turning to God’s Word.

One of the reasons this book has endured throughout the centuries is that it dares to tackle the toughest questions about life. What happens after I die? Is there a God? What on earth am I here for? What do I do with my fears? The Bible answers all of life’s most important questions and concerns. The Bible says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105 KJV).

Every other worldview—atheism, agnosticism, humanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, or I-don’t-care-ism—is just sinking sand. Nothing but the Bible can provide us with a solid foundation upon which to build our lives. But we can’t build on it if we don’t know what it says. That brings us to the second picture in this parable—the structure.



The structure, or house, represents what we build in this life. All of us are building something—a career, a reputation, a family, a legacy, a life. And the question is—what kind of life are you building?

Notice Jesus didn’t say, “Anyone who listens to my teaching is wise;” rather, he said, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock” (Matthew 7:24 NLT).

I wonder if Jesus’ little brother, James, was in the audience that day, because decades later he reiterated the point of the parable: “Humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:20-24 NLT).

Maybe you read your Bible every day. Maybe you enjoy a good sermon. Maybe you even say “amen” every once in a while. That’s great! God wants us to actively listen to his teaching. But what are you building on that foundation? If all you’re doing is listening, then you’re only fooling yourself.

The Bible’s not meant to be read like other books. You can read the newspaper and it places no demands on how you live your life. You can read a cookbook, but that doesn’t mean you have to bake a cake. You can read biology text book, but that doesn’t mean you have to be scientist. But when you read the Bible—the teachings of Jesus—it’s a trumpet call to action.

In the sermon that preceded this parable, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says some radical stuff. He talks about being salt and light in our communities. He talks about dealing with anger and adultery. He teaches about marriage, divorce and keeping your vows. He commands us to love our enemies and give to the needy. He instructs us on prayer and fasting and what to do with our money. He tells us not to judge other people and not to worry about the speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own. His message finally crescendos with the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The whole sermon is about doing. Jesus didn’t preach this sermon to hear himself talk. He wants us treat the principles and precepts he taught like brick and mortar and build them into our lives—to practice what he preached.

Think of it like this. If I wanted to be a hockey player, I might read a book or two about the game. I might get on-line and watch some instructional videos on YouTube. I could even invite some friends over who also want to play hockey. We could watch a game together and talk about the highlights. But until I strap on a pair of skates and get out on the ice, I’m just fooling myself.

The stone represents the teaching of Jesus. The structure represents our actions and application of his teaching. The final picture, the storm, represents the trials we face in life, and ultimately the judgment we will face after life.




In the parable, a storm came. And, you’ll notice, the storm hit both houses equally hard. One thing you can be sure of—no matter where you build your house, no matter what you believe, or how you live—storms will come. Let’s face it—bad things happen and they happen with unpredictable frequency and varying levels of intensity. Some are mere inconveniences; others are life-shattering disasters. And when the storms of life start billowing up, our foundation is tested.

Long ago I read the short story of a ship that was wrecked in a furious storm and the only survivor was a little boy who was swept by the waves onto a rock. He sat there all night long until, the next morning, he was spotted and rescued. Quivering and cold, his rescuer wrapped a blanket around him and said, “You must have been shivering all night, alone on that rock.” “Yes,” said the boy. “I trembled all night—but the rock didn’t.”

Even in the midst life’s thunderstorms and hurricanes—even when the circumstances around us seem at their darkest—Jesus is our rock! He’s our firm foundation and he’ll never tremble. When bill collectors are knocking at the door; when family members are in the hospital; when the doctor gives us the worst possible news, we can surrender to the torrents of waves and be swallowed up by the sea, or we can cling to Jesus, trusting in him to see us through!

But as I read this parable, I think Jesus had a far more devastating storm in mind than those we encounter in this life. Paul says a little something about that: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:9-15 NLT).

Paul described it as a fire. Jesus described it as rain, floods, and winds. But I think they were both talking about the same day—the Day of Judgment. Paul wrote about believers who built their lives on the Lord—some with precious metals and other with cheap materials. But all of them built on the right foundation and so all of them were saved on the Judgment Day. But Jesus talked about those who foolishly built on a faulty foundation.  And you remember the song, don’t you? “The rains came down as floods came up, and the foolish man’s house went splat!”

We’ve all seen footage of tornado-ravaged towns or tsunami’s that have wiped out coastal villages, leveling the landscape as if nothing was ever there. That, Jesus says, is what awaits those who foolishly ignore him. When Judgment comes—and it will come—if you haven’t built your life on Jesus and his teaching, then everything you’ve built and everything you are will be utterly demolished. Building your life on the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to weather the storm.




Because of the sandy soil beneath the village of Pisa, the city was forced to spend $25 million and countless man-hours stabilizing their most famous structure in order to prevent its collapse. Lucky for us, we don’t have to spend that kind of money to build or re-build our lives on the right foundation. If you’re ready to start construction today, I want to invite you to talk with me, while we stand and sing this hymn.

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