A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 7:28-29. Conclusion: who is this preacher?
Many people – including adherents of other religions and of none – tell us that they are prepared to accept the Sermon on the Mount as containing self-evident truth. They know that it includes such sayings as ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,’ ‘Love your enemies,’ ‘No one can serve two masters,’ ‘Judge not, that you be not judged’ and ‘Whatever you wish that men should do to you, do so to them.’ Beautiful! Here, they say, is the Jesus of Nazareth the moral teacher at his simplest and best. Here is the core of his message before it became encrusted with the worthless additions of his interpreters. Here is the ‘original Jesus’, with plain ethics and no dogmas, an unsophisticated prophet of righteousness, claiming to be no more than a human teacher, and telling us to do good and to love one another. ‘The Jesus of dogma I do not understand,’ a Hindu professor once said to Stanley Jones, ‘but the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount and the cross I love and am drawn to.’ Similarly, a Muslim Sufi teacher told him that ‘when he read the Sermon on the Mount he could not keep back his tears’. (Stanley Jones, ‘Christ at the round table’, p.38,60).
But this popular explanation of the Sermon cannot stand up to serious examination. It is mistaken on two counts – first in its view of the teacher and secondly in its presentation of his teaching. For when we look more closely at both, something very different emerges. We considered in the last chapter the distinctiveness of his teaching, his sketch of the Christian counter-culture and his summons to radical discipleship. It remains for us now to consider the uniqueness of the teacher himself.
What we shall find is that it is impossible to drive a wedge between the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount and the Jesus of the rest of the New Testament. Instead, the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount is the same supernatural, dogmatic, divine Jesus who is to be found everywhere else. So the main question of the Sermon forces upon us is not so much ‘What do you make of this teaching?’ as ‘Who on earth is this teacher?’ This is certainly the reaction of those who heard the Sermon preached.
*And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, (29) for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.*
What struck the first hearers of the Sermon (*the crowds*, as well as *his disciples*, 5:1) was the preacher’s extraordinary authority. He did not hum and haw, or hesitate. He was neither tentative nor apologetic. Nor again, on the other hand, was he ever bombastic or flamboyant. Instead, with quiet and unassuming assurance he laid down the law for the citizens of God’s kingdom. And *the crowds were astonished*, even – for the Greek verb is a strong one – ‘dumbfounded’. ‘After nineteen hundred years,’ comments A.M.Hunter, ‘we are astonished too.’.
It should be profitable, then, to try to analyse this ‘authority’ of Jesus, as displayed in the Sermon. On what was it grounded? What was his own self-awareness which led him to speak in this way? What clues does the Sermon itself give of how he understood his identity and his mission? We do not have far to seek in order to find answers to these questions.
Tomorrow: Matthew 7:28-29. 1). Jesus’ authority as the teacher.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.