Surpassing Authority

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A great many people today claim to appreciate Jesus’ teachings, though many of these same people have no time for his authority. They might appreciate the fact that he was as willing to listen as he was to teach. They might appreciate his approachability, so that children were as eager to come to him as adults, and women felt as comfortable around him as men. They might appreciate his manner of teaching: the way that he took complex doctrines and explained them in vivid, interesting, and memorable ways.

Many people, therefore, are eager to follow (some of) his ethical teachings, admiring his courage and clarity, but stopping short of recognising him as anything more than a great teacher. His original audience had a very different reaction. When he concluded the Sermon on the Mount, “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (vv. 28–29).

The crowds were astonished at the man who stood before them. When ministers of the gospel today prepare to preach the word, one of their most frequent prayers is that God will remove them and allow his truth to shine through. The last thing a faithful preacher wants is to draw attention to himself. He wants to be helpful, but he does not want people to marvel at him. Jesus was the opposite. Nobody who heard him could but marvel at him. This was true for at least three reasons.

First, his listeners were astonished at his wisdom. These verses twice reference his “teaching” (vv. 28–29). Teaching, in the Bible, is more than the simple imparting of knowledge. Teaching, biblically speaking, is the ability to take truth and help the hearer see how it applies to his or her life. Teaching assumes that the teacher understands where his readers are coming from and knows precisely how the truths of Scripture should be applied to help the hearer in his or her walk with God.

We do well to marvel with these first-century hearers at Jesus’ wisdom. Jesus knows our every thought, our deed, and motivation. He knows how God’s truth should be applied to every area of life. If we truly appreciate his wisdom, we will ask him for wisdom as we seek to apply God’s truth in our daily lives.

Second, his audience was amazed at his ability. The word translated “astonished” (v. 28) means to be dumbstruck. They had heard their religious leaders lay out what obedience to the Torah meant, but when they heard Jesus, they were dumbstruck at his ability to take God’s word, strip it down to its original intent, and show how it applies to the heart.

If you have not come away from the Sermon on the Mount dumbstruck at Jesus’ ability to apply God’s truth to your heart, you probably have not read it the way that you should. Jesus knows how God’s truth speaks to your lust, your anger, your anxiety, and your prayerlessness. Even two thousand years after he first spoke these words, his preaching deeply touches us as few other sermons can.

Third, his hearers were astonished at his authority. Faithful Jews might recognise the authority to which the scribes appealed, but these listeners recognised authority that came from Jesus himself. The scribes might have appealed to the authority of the Torah (Pentateuch) and the Mishnah (the written rabbinic interpretation of the Torah), but Jesus spoke as if the authority of his words emanated from him.

Jesus cannot merely be considered a great teacher. He certainly was, as his wisdom and ability display. But at the heart of his teaching was his authority. If we walk away from the Sermon on the Mount without a greater submission to his authority, we have missed its heart.

As you reflect on these two brief verses this morning, be rightly amazed at Jesus’ wisdom and ability. But even more significantly, stand amazed at his authority and commit, as never before, to bow to it.