He Spoke with Authority
He Spoke with Authority
St. Matthew 7:28-29
by William Klock
Have you ever noticed how you can tell when you’re talking to an expert and when you’re talking with someone who’s only repeating what they’ve heard the experts say? This past week Veronica and I got into a discussion about abortion with a couple of her old friends. There was a lot of talk from their pro-abortion side of things, but they couldn’t back up any of the statements or arguments they made. They were just repeating things they had heard other people say.
We run across that sort of thing all the time. A person who knows what they’re talking about and who really understands their subject speaks with authority. Someone can come along and parrot them, but the parrot lacks that authority. The problem is that there are always parrots out there trying to assume that authority.
That was very much the case in Jesus’ day. There hadn’t been a prophet in five hundred years in Israel. The scribes had become the authorities for the people, because they had learned the Scriptures – although the extent of much of their learning was no more than rote memorisation. They were the recognised preachers of the Law. Their duty was to memorise it and also to memorise all the commentaries that were given on it by the rabbis. Their job was to pass that knowledge onto the common people. Sadly, as with modern Judaism, they spent far more time studying and preaching on the commentaries than on Scripture itself!
The Jews who heard Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount that day, almost two-thousand years ago, had all grown up listening to the teaching of those scribes. That was the authority they understood. And yet if you look at Matthew 7:28-29, consider what he says there:
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Jesus blew those people away with his teaching – there was no comparison between him and the scribes. They spoke from authorities, but Jesus spoke with authority. There’s a big difference.
When I was pursuing ordination over in the Diocese of New Westminster I was assigned to a little church near UBC. We had a pretty liberal priest who preached sermons that came from reading preaching commentaries that, at best, only barely touched the Scripture lessons for the day. I was there for two years and at the time had no idea how spiritually starved I was becoming. The eye-opener took place when I switched to another parish where the preacher was known for truly engaging God’s Word. He didn’t preach from commentaries, he didn’t preach his own ideas and just consult the Bible for verses that would support his thoughts, he actually engaged the Word – really, he let the Word engage him. He opened up the text and let it speak for itself. For me it was like water poured on drought-parched soil. I soaked it up and was spiritually fed. (That is, by the way, what I try my best to do for you here!)
What Jesus did was even more eye opening. He wasn’t just repeating the authorities, he was the authority. He spoke truth out of his own divine soul and spoke directly to the souls of the people who were listening. St. Matthew was obviously impacted by it himself. Again, he says, “the crowds were astonished…for he was teaching them as one who had authority.”
What’s interesting to me is that when Jesus was finished preaching, his audience was apparently more impressed with his authority than with the content of his sermon. Our first reaction to that is probably to think that it was bad – from our perspective we tend to think – and rightly so – that the only real response to hearing Jesus’ message is to repent and receive him as Lord. But remember that none of those people there – and that includes the disciples – were at a point where professing faith in Christ was even possible. At that point in Jesus’ ministry it was more important that their attention be on the preacher himself. He’s the narrow gate at the end of the narrow way he called them to follow. He’s the rock that he called them to build on.
For them to be impressed with the authority of Jesus wasn’t a bad thing, because it meant they were impressed with him. And considering that, the Sermon on the Mount wasn’t totally ineffective, even if the people couldn’t fully understand everything in it – it still fulfilled the function of directing them to Christ himself.
And it’s the same today. When we started this series, I told you that one of the important reasons for studying the Sermon on the Mount is that it points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. The preacher of the Sermon on the Mount is the Sermon on the Mount, and so as we study the sermon we come to know Jesus better. We may not understand it all, but the more we study it, the better we come to know him. But this morning, as we wrap up our study of Jesus’ Sermon, I want to do just what those people did: I want us to be amazed by his authority. I want to look at his words, at his works, and finally at his resurrection.
First, his words. It was his words that made the first impression of authority on the people listening to him. The really amazing thing – and it’s just what those people listening to him all those years ago noticed – is that his words have intrinsic authority – they speak authority in and of themselves. Think about the fact that anyone who takes time to study the teachings of Jesus Christ, whether it’s the words of the Sermon on the Mount or the rest of the Gospels, anyone is going to see the intuitive assurance and character that distinguish his words from the words of men.
Consider that Christ’s most startling revelation was himself. Think back to the Beatitudes, where he tells us about persecution. He told us there that those who hear him will be persecuted “for his sake,” not for the sake of his teaching, but because of their relationship with him. And remember back to the part of the sermon following the Beatitudes where Jesus told us about the relationship between the Law and the Gospel. There he sets himself up as a preacher of God’s Law. That was what the scribes did, but Jesus does it with real authority. Throughout that section we hear him say those words, “You have heard it said: You shall do such and such…but I say to you.” Those words that the people had “heard said” were the words of the rabbis and the scribes. Jesus puts himself above those teachers and he does it without apology, without reserve, and without qualification. He has real authority.
He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” In those words he’s saying: “I am the Messiah!” In chapter six we heard him tell us how to give alms, how to pray, how to fast, and how to avoid materialism and anxiety. In chapter seven he’s warned us against falling prey to the things that might distract us – from anything that would turn our attention from him and lead us into judgement. He ends by saying, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like wise man who builds his house on the rock….And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”
These are the statements that distinguish Jesus from other religious teachers. John Stott says, other teachers “are self-effacing; [Jesus] is self-advancing. They point away from themselves and say, ‘That is the truth as far as I perceive it; follow that.’ Jesus says, ‘I am the truth; follow me.’ If anyone ever spoke with authority, it was Jesus!
But Jesus didn’t just speak with authority, he acted with authority too. He didn’t just wander around doing miracles for the heck of it – if you read the Gospels you see his works serving to back-up his claims. What kinds of works did he do? Well, according to St. Matthew, by the time Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he had already been healing all sorts of sickness and had cast out demons. Later he would cure lepers, open blind eyes, raise the dead to life, calm a storm, turn water into wine, feed thousands with a few fish and a few pieces of bread, and finally open the heavens themselves to receive him. You can’t study the miracles of Jesus without coming to the same conclusion that Nicodemus did: “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).
It shouldn’t be any wonder, then, that one of the first points of attack on the faith and on the person of Jesus Christ comes as an attack on his works – on his miracles. One of the most significant movements in biblical studies in the last two hundred years has been based on the idea that there was Jesus himself (the “historical Jesus”) and then there’s the mythical Jesus that that the disciples invented and recorded in Scripture in order to push their own agenda. This quest for the “historical Jesus” starts by stripping the Gospels of everything supernatural – of all the miracles. They see Christianity as the product of the early disciples who stole Jesus’ body from the tomb, who then proclaimed that he had been resurrected so that they could gather a following themselves.
In more recent years the scalpel of the so-call scholars has moved on, cutting into the very words of Jesus. A group called the “Jesus Seminar” has actually produced their own book containing the gospels in parallel columns. They get together as a group and determine for themselves what things Jesus actually said and what the disciples put in his mouth, then they colour-code the text. If it’s in red, well, Jesus said that. Pink means he probably said something kind of like it, and on to black. Black means Jesus said nothing of the sort. Needless to say, the only thing you’ll find in red is Jesus talking about love and peace – anything that condemns is in black. They’ve also included the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, a collection of supposed sayings of Jesus collected by a non-Christian Gnostic sect – sort of Second Century New-Agers. And of course, it contains far more red than any of the actual Gospels.
In the end, whether it’s the Jesus Seminar people or those on the quest to find the “historical Jesus,” the end result is that men are recreating Jesus in their own image. There’s nothing objective on which they can base their cutting and pasting. Idealists find Jesus to be the ideal man; rationalists find him to be the great teacher of morality; Socialists find the great friend of the poor and a revolutionary. Some of the more popular theories reject most of the Gospel material as mythology and some of these supposed “scholars” have even denied that Jesus existed at all.
But you know, you can look at the miracles of Jesus any way you want and ultimately you’re going to find that they pass any test. Anyone who carefully reads the life of Jesus presented in Scripture and is honest with himself, has to acknowledge that the life the evangelists describe there isn’t something they imagined. It’s something that really happened. The teachings are real teachings. The miracles are real miracles. And ultimately you have to see that the teachings that the Gospels give us and the miracles that they describe are interwoven and can’t be separated. It’s the teachings and the miracles together that reinforce Jesus’ authority. R.A. Torrey wrote, “If Jesus lived and wrought substantially as the Gospels record, cleansing lepers, opening the eyes of the blind, raising the dead, stilling the tempest with His word, feeding the 5,000 with five small loaves and two small fishes, then He bears unmistakable credentials as a teacher sent and endorsed by God.”
These two things: Jesus’ words and his works, he joins together himself in a comment in St. John’s Gospel to those who had both seen and heard him and who had not yet believed: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin….If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:22, 24)
But the final and conclusive proof of the authority of Jesus Christ is his resurrection from the dead. Of course, at the time he preached the Sermon on the Mount that hadn’t happened yet, but remember: he ended the sermon with that encouraging word to those listening to keep on as his disciples until they came to that point. You see, the resurrection is critically important for us. Everything Jeus did and said and everything he claimed to be hinges on that. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? If he did, then his authority is obviously a given. We can trust his teaching. We can know he is God Incarnate as he claimed to be. If he was truly raised from the dead, Christianity sits on a foundation that can never be moved or shaken.
Did Jesus rise from the dead? No one who is honest with the facts can say “No.” All the evidence points to the resurrection. Think of the empty tomb. It was found empty. The fact that it was empty is best proved by the lack of evidence to the contrary. If the tomb had not been empty, the Pharisees would have jumped on the chance to exhume the body of Jesus and show it as evidence to refute the apostles’ preaching. The Romans would have had to fight with the Pharisees, because they certainly would have done the same thing. If Jesus’ body had been in the tomb, the Romans could have produced it as evidence to squash the Church as it was just beginning. The Pharisees claimed that the disciples had stolen the body, but think about it. The apostles, with the exception of John, were al martyred for their faith in Jesus and his resurrection. If it was all a scam that they came up with, do you really think they would have endured persecution and death for a lie? It doesn’t really take much faith to believe the biblical explanation for the empty tomb: that Jesus was raised from the dead.
There’s also the evidence of the graveclothes. When Peter and John got to the tomb that first Easer morning, the body of Jesus was gone, but what was really remarkable was that the graveclothes were still there. Not just unwrapped and in a pile, but undisturbed and just as they had been wrapped around Jesus’ body – only there was no body in them. The cloth that covered his face was still there too, next to all that wound-up linen. And yet the body was gone. The only thing that accounts for the linens being the way they were is the passing of Jesus’ body through the wrappings, just like he later passed through closed doors. The graveclothes are evidence that he was resurrected, not that he was just, as some critics argue, only passed out, but came to and left the tomb later.
But we also have Jesus’ appearances – not just to the disciples, but to all sorts of different people and to different groups and under different circumstances. This evidence was so strong that St. Paul appealed to it when writing to the Corinthians, showing that Jesus “appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
And finally, the truth of the Resurrection is seen by the transformation of the disciples. Consider how these men who had been so cowardly when Jesus was arrested, so despondent as they pouted together after his death, were suddenly filled with joy, love, faith, power, and a new confidence and were ready to lay down their lives for their Lord. What can account for that kind of change other than that the Resurrection really did happen?
Now what does all this mean for us personally? Those people listening to Jesus when he preached the Sermon on the Mount were “astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” And yet we’re not told that anyone who heard him that day believed in his teaching or committed themselves to him. It’s sad but true to say that it’s possible for us to do the same thing today.
We need to ask: What’s the most important message of the Sermon on the Mount? The response of the people hearing it tells us that the most important message is the person of Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God, who spoke as no man has ever spoken before or since, who lived as he preached, and who died and rose again so that he could offer us full and perfect salvation. Do you believe that? Have you committed yourself to his care? If you’re willing to make that commitment, he’ll do everything that he’s promised for you. He’ll make you blessed in the sense that the Beatitudes give to that word. He’ll make you the salt of the earth and a light in this dark world. He’ll give you understanding of the Scriptures as his Holy Spirit lives in you. He’ll teach you to pray. He’ll carry you through all the cares, and sorrows, and difficulties of this life and into an eternity of unbroken fellowship with him.
Do you believe that? Today he’s speaking to you. He’s saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “Believe on me.” Let your own heart answer, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46 NIV). “Yes, Lord, I want you to be my Saviour and Lord.”
Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, when we fell into sin and death, you spared not your own Son, but sent him to purchase our redemption on the cross. We ask that by your Spirit, you would open our eyes to the authority of Jesus Christ. Father, we ask that you would turn cold and dead hearts to him as they see that authority, that they might find redemption, but Father we also ask, for those of us who have already found the life he offers, that our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds, would see his authority too and in new and deeper ways, that we might be moved to obedience as he speaks to us. We ask this in his name. Amen.