26 August 2016

Matthew 7:28-29

“Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” (vv. 28-29)

Psalm: Psalm 142


These verses signal the end of this particular collection of Jesus' teachings. Matthew used very similar phrases when he drew other collections of teachings to a conclusion (Matthew 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).

This collection, known as the Sermon on the Mount, begins at Matthew 5:1, where we read that "when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them" (Matthew 5:1-2). The Gospel records that the crowds who came to hear Jesus were drawn from a wide area - from Jerusalem and Galilee, and from cities now in Jordan and Syria (Matthew 4:25). Small wonder that the authorities were to become concerned. A crowd draws a crowd, so there were undoubtedly present those who were believers and those who were merely curious; those who were seeking to revitalise their faith and those who were deeply suspicious of this young teacher from Galilee. And they are astonished by what they hear. Why should this be?

Those listening to Jesus would have been accustomed to the teachers of the law. It was their business precisely to teach what was required by the law, thus they consistently referred to the law and to the prophets. And the prophets themselves consistently referred to God - "Thus says the Lord ..." (for example). However, the crowd could see that Jesus was different, he taught by his own authority. During this series of teachings Jesus said, "You have heard … but Isay to you …" (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). Here was one speaking with the authority of God the Son.

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it clear that he was not in the business of abolishing teaching of the law and the prophets; his concern was that the spirit rather than the letter of the law should be observed (Matthew 5:17-20). This necessitated a conversion of heart in his hearers so that they would be not hearers only but doers.

To Ponder

  • What does authority mean to you? How easy do you find it to discern between authentic authority and authority which is only 'second-hand'?
  • Take time to read the whole of the Sermon on the Mount (again). What challenges you most about its teaching?

Bible notes author

Gillian Kingston

Gillian Kingston is a local preacher on the North Tipperary Circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a part-time university chaplain. She is interim Vice-President of the World Methodist Council.