For centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong. Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle’s death. In 1589 Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten- pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. The power of belief was so strong, however, that the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to say Aristotle was right. People can think that the old authorities are right, and they will continue to believe them, even if they are astounded by the results of some new authority. The same is true of Jesus’ listeners. The text says that they were astounded at Jesus’ teaching. But the text does not say that they believed Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus had just finished preaching the Sermon on the Mount. Most people agree that it was the best sermon that has ever been preached, or that ever will be preached. And that is probably true. I know of no sermon more powerful, more searching, more convicting, or more helpful to the Christian than this sermon. However, it was a sermon that did not even convince its first listeners. Amazing, isn’t it? Here we have Jesus delivering this sermon, talking about the law, about righteousness and blessedness, about marriage, oaths, hatred, divorce, prayer, fasting, alms-giving, worry, false prophets, false professors, and many other things. He covered an enormous amount of ground. But what was His main point? All sermons ought to have one main point which they are trying to get across. Jesus’ point was that this was what the kingdom of God was all about. It says in 4:17 that Jesus started to preach, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus’ message was one of repentance because of the kingdom of God which Jesus was Himself bringing to earth. This is the message that Jesus brought.
And when Jesus preached this message, He taught with authority. This is what surprised the people who were listening. Actually, the word is even stronger than that. The authority of Jesus left them dumbfounded. They were astounded. Why? Because he was not like their scribes. Well, then, what were their scribes like? The Jews were very keen on quoting other people for their authority. If you read almost anything Jewish in the scholarly world, you will get something like this: “Rabbi Akiba said this, Rabbi Gamaliel said this, Rabbi Ibn Ezra said this, while Rabbi so-and-so said this.” This can go on for pages and pages. Only after they have sorted out all their sources will they ever say something like, “Now, what I think is this.” Jesus doesn’t do any of that. Instead of that, He purposely quotes the rabbis only to immediately and authoritatively disagree with them. For instance, Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus set Himself up as a separate authority from all the rabbis and all the extra-biblical Jewish writings that had accumulated over the time period between the two testaments.
In fact, Jesus even went so far as to say, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you that you should not resist the evil person. If he strikes you on the right cheek, then offer to him the left cheek also.” In this case, Jesus was even quoting the OT law, and setting Himself up as an authority equal to the OT! That also astounded the people. It is important to note at this part of our sermon the verb tense of this verb “astounded.” It is imperfect. A good translation would be, “The were becoming more and more flabbergasted.” What that means is that the people were becoming more and more astounded all the way through the Sermon on the Mount. It wasn’t just the end of the sermon that had them flabbergasted, it was the whole thing.
But again, as we noted at the beginning, the people didn’t believe. You can have the very best preacher that the universe has ever seen, but if the Holy Spirit doesn’t move the people, then the people will not come to Christ. This is well illustrated by the following story: Amy Carter brought an assignment home one Friday night while her father was still President. Stumped by a question on the Industrial Revolution, Amy sought help from her mother. Rosalynn was also fogged by the question and, in turn, asked an aide to seek clarification from the Labor Department. A “rush” was placed on the request since the assignment was due Monday. Thinking the question was a serious request from the President himself, a Labor Department official immediately cranked up the government computer and kept a full team of technicians and programmers working overtime all weekend…at a reported cost of several hundred thousand dollars. The massive computer printout was finally delivered by truck to the White House on Sunday afternoon and Amy showed up in class with the official answer the following day. But her history teacher was not impressed. When Amy’s paper was returned, it was marked with a big red “C.” All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again! It didn’t matter that all the best government officials were on the case, the teacher was not convinced. Does this not point out to us the power of the Holy Spirit, and the utter inability of mankind to come to faith on their own? We call mankind to come to faith, and yet they cannot do it on their own. The Holy Spirit must work, or nothing happens.
Has the Holy Spirit worked in your life to believe in the authority of Jesus? And not just to believe in the authority of Jesus, but also to believe in Jesus Himself, and to believe His words. It is all very well to say that we have believed Christ. But such statements mean nothing without the fruit. We have seen that over and over again in the Sermon on the Mount. Not everyone who says to Jesus “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of His Father, who is in heaven.
Do Jesus’ words have authority in your life? Do they determine your decisions? Do you really follow Jesus’ teachings? Do you concern yourself first with the kingdom of God more than everything else? Do you keep yourself salty and filled with light? Do you recognize that Jesus came to the fulfill the law, and not to abolish it? Does your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, because it is Christ’s righteousness that you possess? Do you avoid not only murder, but also hate? Do you avoid not only adultery, but also lust? Do you avoid not only divorce, but everything that leads to divorce? Do you keep your word? Do you turn the other cheek? Do you love your enemy? Do you pray privately, fast privately, give to the church privately? Is your treasure in heaven, and not on earth? Do you serve your heavenly master, and not money? Do you trust that God will provide for you? Do you avoid judging other people? Do you ask, seek, and knock on God’s door for holiness? Have you entered the narrow gate? Are you exercising your discernment so as to avoid being duped by false prophets? Do you avoid hypocrisy? Do you build your house on the Rock of Jesus’ teaching? There, that is a summary of the Sermon on the Mount: will you listen AND obey? These are not my words but God’s words to us. They apply to every one of us. No one is exempt from being required to follow Jesus and His words. Most of all, do you recognize and bow down to the authority of Jesus? You will bow down sooner or later, since every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth when Christ comes back to judge the living and the dead. Bow down to Him and worship Jesus. Worship God the Father, worship God the Holy Spirit. For that is what Jesus has told us to do.