“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” (Matthew 7:28-29).
The scribes and Pharisees, writers of the Talmud, constantly quoted one another to establish authority for their positions. No one wanted to take a stand on something that never had been said before. No teacher would dare to proclaim, “I say to you,” without first having the backing of other great teachers in the form of quotations supporting what the current speaker said.
As the Son of God, Jesus had authority to say, “Moses said… but I say to you….” He did not fear using that authority. Such straight-forward teaching amazed the people that heard Jesus teach. They were astounded to hear him speak, without quoting any other teacher, and to listen as he said, “This is what the Bible really means.” Knowing Jesus as we do, his authority does not startle us as it startled his disciples then.
Jesus went beyond contradicting the teachers of God’s Law. He also contradicted the sinful human heart in all its religious manifestations. We want to find in ourselves a goodness that will win God’s approval for us. We seek goodness in ourselves that can help us find our way to God. Jesus preaches the Law in all its severity to show us that we cannot work our way to God by means of the Law. At the very same time, Jesus also describes the gift, the blessing, the way God forgives our sins and opens his kingdom to us through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
It is both tragic and comic to hear religious leaders—both Christian and non-Christian—pledge allegiance to the moral standards preached by Jesus. These leaders cannot see that these standards are unobtainable to humans who already have sinned; nor do they comprehend that Jesus offers a better way. Some seek loopholes in his teaching to make us seem good enough for God. Others claim that, so long as we sincerely strive to meet his standards, God will accept us as we are. Neither loopholes nor compromises exist in Jesus’ teaching. He speaks only the Law—which tells us we are deeply in trouble and need help—and the Gospel—which tells us how we have been helped by Jesus.
Jesus is unlike other teachers. He teaches both Law and Gospel, using the Law to show us why we need the Gospel. Unlike teachers who appeal to us to be good, Jesus tells us to be perfect. Other teachers encourage us to live up to God’s moral code. They promise rewards to follow our efforts, and perhaps forgiveness when we try our best and still fall short. Jesus presents instead a message of blessing. He calls the kingdom of heaven a gift given to those who do not deserve it. This gift is given to the people who know that they do not deserve it. Anyone trying to earn this gift is trapped in sand. Anyone who knows Jesus—truly knows him as the one who rescues us, not merely the one who teaches us how to live—stands on the rock. Jesus teaches with authority. He has authority to forgive sins, to rescue sinners, and to give blessings. This authority of Jesus is amazing and wonderful. J.