(Matthew 7:28-29) (23)
It is easy to skip over these two verses, as though they are ‘fill ins’ between this great sermon we have been considering and the cleansing of the man with leprosy found in chapter eight. However, since ‘All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,’ (2 Tim 3:16) we had better investigate further in order that we might be instructed.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (7:28-29)
Today, perhaps more than ever, we are told we must use the right words. If we are writing a CV, going for an interview or taking an exam there are certain ‘buzz’ words or phrases that will get you noticed and give you that edge. Sadly this has also spread into the church in that it is not so much the content that seems important but using the ‘in’ phrases. I`m sure we can all think back to when someone waxed lyrical about a certain speaker and we asked, ‘What did they actually say?’ Very often the reply will be, ‘I don`t remember what they said but they were good.’ In Jesus` day the ‘teachers of the law’ would quote from the sayings and writings of various Rabbis to lay weight to what they were saying. They did not take the authority of the law and the prophets and the lessons of Israel`s history and apply that to peoples life situations but rather looked for a rabbi who agreed with their particular view and quoted him as their authority. I often quote from other writers or speakers, not to use them as an authority but because they often express a thought in a way that I cannot improve upon.
Our text tells us that Jesus was totally different and the crowds knew it. His authority came from who he was not from who he quoted. This whole sermon is not a re-hash of what someone else had said but an authoritative declaration, by the king, of how kingdom citizens should and, ultimately, will live. The word ‘authority’ is from the Greek word ‘êxôusia’ which means – the right or power to act, command, enforce laws, exact obedience, determine or judge. It is important to keep this definition in mind as we look at the reaction of those first hearers of this sermon to discover how what he said should govern our lives.
At the end of the beatitudes Jesus says the kingdom citizens will be insulted, persecuted and falsely accused in the same way that the prophets of old were. Samuel of whom it was said, ‘the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground,’ (1 Sam 3:19) was one such prophet and judge yet Israel rejected him. God said, It was not Samuel but, ‘they have rejected me from being king over them.’ (1 Sam 8:7). Jesus says the kingdom citizens will not be rejected because of what they say, do or are but ‘because of me!’ (5:11) The rejection is not of the subject but of the king, Jesus, who is the Word of God.
For Israel God was the ultimate authority and the Law which He had given through Moses was the essence of that authority. Sadly, often having the Law was more important than keeping it. Jesus makes it very clear that he had ‘not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it,’ (5:17) but goes on to explore the deeper meaning of the Law. He does this by using the formula ‘You have heard that it said … but I say to you.’ He takes what God said, through Moses, and how it was interpreted in his day, then makes a judgement on that interpretation based not on the righteousness of the action but on the heart behind it, something only God could know. He then adds ‘but I say to you,’ making his own words on a par with those of God. Is there any wonder that they were amazed? No teacher of the law they knew would have the audacity to claim such authority.
When Jesus moved to the subjects of prayer, fasting or giving to the needy, which if done for the wrong reason, to be ‘seen’, he says, ‘they have received the reward in full’, something which only God could know and declare.
In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus is showing how people will seek entry into the kingdom. Their request will be based on the merits of what they have said or done but they will find that it is the man Jesus with whom they have to deal. When we consider this in the light of how we defined authority we find that he is not just one authority among many, but is the ultimate authority. He is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6) Entry into the kingdom is dependent on Jesus Christ alone. He is the king and judge before whom we must either stand or fall, there is no second alternative.
The two builders (7:24-27) were judged by their response to Jesus` words. The wise heard, heeded and stood firm, the foolish heard and ignored and fell.
The crowds reaction was amazement, Jesus was so different to other teachers they had heard, but they were still ignorant of who he really was. Matthew records this sermon right at the beginning of Jesus` ministry and the rest of his gospel account shows that Jesus has authority in every sphere of life. Jesus tells John the Baptist`s disciples to report what they see, ‘the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up.’ (Matt 11:5) He showed his authority in other areas also. With a single word He cast out demons and calmed the sea. He fed thousands of people from nothing as God had done in the wilderness. He was not just an authoritative speaker but had power over ‘the world, the flesh and the devil.’ Yet even his disciples failed to recognise the significance of his authority. It took a revelation to Peter before he declared, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ (Matt 16:16) Jesus` last words at his ascension were on the extent of His authority, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ (Matt 28:18).
Many who heard this sermon, or were fed or healed by Jesus, rejected him. They could say, like Nicodemus, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ (John 3:2). Moses had told them that when the prophet came from God they were ‘to listen to him’ (Deut 18:15) but many chose not to and people today are still choosing not to listen to Jesus.
Many love his authoritative teaching, healings and miracles until …! until they are asked to submit to it then it is a completely different thing. When the teaching got tough many began deserting Jesus. So He asked his disciples ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ to which Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’ (John 6:67-69)
Remember amazement is not saving faith. We must be careful that we are not so carried away with the glory of this magnificent sermon that we remain at the amazed stage. I believe there is no tougher teaching anywhere in scripture than that contained in the Sermon on the Mount because it is not just to be admired but a life to be lived and to be lived in detail.
Let us go beyond being just amazed at the authority of this preacher because we know who he is. He is Jesus: the Christ; the Messiah; the King of the Kingdom; the Word of God; the Son of God; He is Immanuel – God with us. Let us submit willingly to His authority and say, ‘We will have Him as king to reign over us.’