The day I wrote my sermon for this week I read Matthew 5-7 in my morning prayer time. This is one of Jesus' most famous pieces of teaching, the Sermon on the Mount. Again and again in these three chapters of the Bible Jesus teaches people how God would have his children live with each other and serve him in the world. The sermon closes with these words:
"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."
The teaching that Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount grabbed people's attention not just through what he had to say, but through the unseen force that his words carried as they entered into people's minds and hearts. Matthew compares the power of teaching that comes from Jesus with that teaching that comes from the scribes, and basically finds that there is no comparison. The scribes were educated people, thoroughly understanding all parts of Jewish law and religious practice, and I suspect that many of them were good teachers, but compared to Jesus their teaching is found to lack something of critical importance.
"Authority" is a word with multiple definitions, and I believe that two different ones are meant here. The first is "persuasive force; conviction," and the second is "a statute, court rule, or judicial decision that establishes a rule or principle of law; a ruling."
The readers of Matthew know something that the original audience of the Sermon on the Mount don't know, which is that Jesus is God Incarnate. By his very nature as God the words he speaks carry with them an authority that no one else on earth has ever had. He is not saying "Live this way" as a piece of advice or wisdom, something we might want to give consideration to as we go about our business each day. He is saying "Live this way, because the Lord God says that this is the way in which his children should live."
And because Jesus has the very authority to make declarations that carry the weight of God with them, it follows that his words carry with them a singular persuasive force, a sense of conviction, that no other words in the world can possibly compare to.
Ultimately, the authority that speaks the words in the Sermon on the Mount is the same authority that fills every page of our Bibles, from the first words of Genesis to the last words of Revelation.
We may wrestle with understanding things in our Bible. I know that there are times I certainly do. But we are wrestling with words that are trustworthy, that are true, that are good, and that are unfailing. They are words that bring us peace and comfort. They are words that challenge the way we see the world and our place in it as disciples of Jesus.
And they are words spoken with authority by one who loves his children in whatever state of mind or circumstance of life they may be in. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.