"The Greatest Preacher"
(Delivered Sunday, July 3, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
I don't know whether or not you realize it, but - with some departures here and there - we have spent over a year's worth of time studying just one sermon! I don't feel that it has been too much time to do so, though; because it happens to be the greatest sermon ever preached - preached by the greatest Preacher who ever lived. I hope you agree that every word of our blessed Savior's Sermon on The Mount is worthy of all the time we can give to it.
We completed our look at the actual words of the Sermon last week. And that brings us to two verses immediately after the closing words of our Savior's sermon that it would be easy to pass by. But in truth, they model for us how we ourselves should respond to and receive the teaching of this great sermon. And this morning, I would like us to give particular attention to them.
After Jesus concluded His great Sermon, the Gospel writer Matthew tells us, in Matthew 7:28-29;
And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes (Matthew 7:28-29).
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I suspect that, if you are a regular reader of the Bible, you've read those words before. But I'll also suspect that - if you are like I myself have been - you've probably read them and didn't notice just what a significant thing it is that they tell us. I have to confess that, when I myself was originally preparing to study of the Sermon on The Mount, I didn't know what to do with them; and had intended to only make passing reference to them.
But I have grown to see these two verses as very important verses; and for two very important reasons. First of all, these two verses serve as a transition point to what happens next in Matthew's Gospel, after this greatest of all sermons was preached.
The attention of all the multitudes who heard the words of this great sermon was fixed upon the One who spoke them. Even before He preached it, attention was drawn to Him; because John the Baptist had been pointing Him out to everyone as One who was to come - whose "winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). This was a reference to Jesus as the long-expected Messiah; who would not only be the Savior of all, but also be the Judge of all. John even pointed Him out to people, calling Him "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). And so, everyone was already talking about Jesus - especially after His baptism, when the heavens opened up, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove settled upon Him, and the voice of the Father in heaven announced to all, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17).
And now that Jesus had spoken these remarkable words, look at what happens next! Chapters 8-9 of Matthew describe a series miracles - one miracle after another - that our Lord performed before those who heard Him. Not only did the multitudes hear these great words of One who was declared to be the Son of God, but they also saw Him do things that only the Son of God could do.
Look at what happens immediately after the Sermon was completed. Matthew tells us;
When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately his leprosy was cleansed (Matthew 8:1-3).
In those days, a leper was an utterly helpless and unwanted person - someone unspeakably tragic and hopeless in his or her need. And as I'm sure you know, no one dared to even touch a leper out of fear that they too might fall victim to the same horrible disease. But in great mercy and compassion, Jesus - before the eyes of all who had just heard Him preach the Sermon on The Mount - not only reached out and touched this poor, pathetic man; He also did something that only the Son of God could do. He healed him! Instantly!
And then follows a whole string of breath-taking miracles. Jesus healed a centurion's servant by simply speaking a word from a distance (8:5-13). He then healed Peter's mother-in-law; and spent the evening healing the multitudes of people who came to Him at Peter's door (8:16-17). He rebuked the winds and the waves, and calmed a storm out at sea; causing His disciples to say, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" (8:23-27). He cast out demons; who cry as they come out, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (8:28-31). He healed a paralyzed man, in order to prove that He had the authority to forgive sins (9:1-8). He healed a woman with a twelve-year-long illness just by her simply touching the hem of His garment (9:20-22). He raised a girl from the dead (9:18-19; 23-26). He gave sight to two blind men (9:27-31). And He cast the demon out of a mute man so that the mute man spoke (32-33).
People were not only astonished at what He said in this sermon; but looking at all the miracles He performed, they also said, "It was never seen like this in Israel!" (9:33). And I believe that these two little verses serve as the connection between the things that Jesus taught and the remarkable things that He did - both, together, giving proof to all that He truly was the Son of God. It makes the teaching and the miracles go together as a unit. Clearly, He was a great teacher; but He was clearly MORE than just a great teacher. As even Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, confessed to Him; "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him" (John 3:2).
These two verses, then, give us a direct link between the things Jesus said in the Sermon on The Mount, and the miracles that proved His authority to say what He said in it. They are important to consider for that reason alone.
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But the second reason I believe these two verses are important is because they show us the impression that His great sermon had on the people who heard it. Without these two verses, we might easily forget just how astonished people were at Him when He preached it.
Those who first heard His words were exceedingly amazed - not just at His words alone, but at Him! Ordinarily, when a preacher preaches a sermon - a good preacher, anyway - he seeks to draw people's attention away from himself and on to what it is that he is saying. But here, the listeners were just as much amazed at Him - His manner, His authority, His uniqueness - as they were at what He said.
Now, compare that to how people tend to respond to the Sermon on The Mount today. Even people who do not believe that Jesus as the Son of God, and who do not place their faith in Him as their Savior, still love and appreciate many of the words of the Sermon. They quote them as great and beautiful words of ethical instruction. But their understanding of them is superficial; and you could hardly say that such people come away "astonished" or "amazed" by them.
And I suggest to you that such people fail to be impacted by them as they should, because they have not been given by the Holy Spirit a true view of the One who spoke them. They fail to receive these words in the same context as did those who first heard them - that is, as words that were prefaced by an announcement from heaven that the One who spoke them is the Son of God; and as words that were followed by the One who spoke them doing a set of miracles that only the Son of God could do. Many today hear the words, but their eyes have not been opened to the divine Preacher Himself; because when the Holy Spirit works, the words of this Sermon throw the spotlight on the great Preacher. It was because of the whole picture of all these things that the people who first heard these words were completely blown away by them; and they grew to hold the One who spoke them in holy awe.
And this brings us to the great lesson that these two verses teach us today: that the hearing of this great Sermon should draw our primary attention to the One who spoke them. If we spend over a year studying the words of the Sermon on The Mount, and we come away without having the spotlight fixed upon Jesus - if we do not come away more in awe of Him, and more in love with Him, and more ready to give ourselves to Him - then we have horribly missed the point. If we simply gather up the sayings of Jesus from this great sermon, say a passing word of thanks to the Preacher for giving them to us, then run off and do whatever we like with them, then we will have failed to grasp their true intent. The words of this Sermon are meant to drive us to the place in which we fall before this great Preacher - Jesus, the Son of God - seek God's great mercy and saving grace through Him, and rise up and follow Him as Lord of our lives.
Let me put it to you this way: This sermon is meant to so prove us to be sinners before a holy God, and to leave us so "astonished" by our encounter with the Savior from sin, that we do exactly what the leper did - fall before Jesus and say, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean!" And He will! He will respond by saying, "I am willing; be cleansed."
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It's always a good thing to turn the spotlight on our Savior. Let's look at these two little verses and learn the impression of Jesus that His great sermon gave to those who heard Him. I suggest that there are, mainly, three things that these words taught them about Him; and they are three things we ourselves should be impressed about Him.
First, they were impressed that He was . . .
1. A WISE PREACHER.
Jesus' words in the Sermon on The Mount were not merely meant to inform. They were meant to teach. Twice in these two verses, Jesus' role as "Teacher" is alluded to. We're told that Jesus didn't merely preach to them, but "taught" them (didaskõn); and it was said that people were astonished, not at His "sermon", but at His "teaching" (didachã).
"Teaching", in the biblical sense, is not meant to merely fill heads with knowledge. "Teaching", in the biblical sense, is always meant to be put into practice. It's meant to bring about a change in the way we believe and think; and then to call us to a new way of behaving and living. It teaches us why we are to change, and what it is that we are to change into. It even presents us with a model of what that new behavior will look like.
And in all these respects, Jesus proves to be the Master/Teacher. He made it clear that His words are meant to be put into practice when He said, "Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man . . ." (Matthew 7:24).
Think with me for a moment of the monumental things that Jesus taught about in this Sermon. He touches on the most fundamental and ultimate subjects that can ever be taught. For example, He taught what a man or woman must do to be happy and blessed before God. It's certainly not in the ways that people typically seek "blessedness"; because He said,
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
He taught His followers how to glorify God. He said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (5:16). He also taught them the high standards of holiness that God expects of us; "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (5:20). Think of it: Who but the One who is the Savior from sins would set the bar that high? You can be sure that none of the scribes or Pharisees ever said that! Who but such a teacher as Jesus - who seeks to draw men away from their own efforts at self-righteousness, and turn them instead to Himself for salvation - would say, "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (5:48)?
Jesus took on one of the greatest subjects that can ever be taught - the Law of God through Moses; and yet, showed us the true intention of that law that was completely missed by the scholars and experts. He said to us, "You have heard that it was said to those of old"; and then said, "But I say to you . . ."; and then proceeded to teach us the true spirit of God's commandments over the mere superficial letter of the law (5:17-48). Never has there been a greater exposition of the Law of Moses than Jesus gives us in the Sermon on The Mount! It far surpasses the interpretations of all the scribes and Pharisees and Rabbis and scholars and philosophers who came either before or after Him!
Read through His sermon for yourself! You find that He touches on the most profound subjects imaginable. He speaks of heaven (5:3, 10, 20; 6:20; 7:21), of hell (5:22, 20, 30; 7:13, 23), of final judgment (5:19, 20-22; 25-26; 7:1-2, 19, 23, 27), and of eternal rewards (5:3-12, 19, 46; 6:4, 18) - and all in one sermon!
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Think of one of the most startling things Jesus teaches His hearers in this sermon - that because of their relationship with Him, they may call God "Father"! That was a remarkably "revolutionary" idea in the minds of the Jewish people who heard Him; that because of a relationship with Him, they may dare to address God by the intimate term "Father"!
God was sometimes presented as "Father" in the Old Testament; but it was almost always as "Father", in a very general sense, of the nation of Israel; and not in an personal individual sense. There are times when God promised to be the "Father" of someone; but it was usually a prophetic promise - such as His promise to be the "Father" of the Messiah symbolically presented through Solomon (2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13; 22:10; 28:6; Psalm 89:26). Sometimes He promises to be "Father" in a metaphorical sense; as when He promises to be "a father of the fatherless" (Psalm 68:5). But never would it occur to a Jewish person think of calling God "Father" in terms of seeing themselves in a loving and personal relationship with Him as a "son" or "daughter". That would be a far too "familiar" way to speak of one's relationship with the almighty God of Israel!
But Jesus came to this earth to take our sins away, and to reconcile us to His Father. And so, He preaches this sermon and teaches His disciples to take the revolutionary step of calling God "Father" in a personal and intimate way. He says things like, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (5:16). What a surprising thing to say! Or, He says things like this: ". . . Love your enemies . . . that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (5:44-45); or, ". . . You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (5:48). There are fourteen times in this sermon that He invites us to call God our "Father" (See also 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11). Jesus even teaches us to pray in a completely revolutionary way - and even providing the model for us to follow - when He says, "In this manner, therefore, pray: 'Our Father in heaven . . ." (6:9).
But think also of how careful He was in how He taught this to us. When Jesus speaks of the Father to His disciples, He uses the phrase "your Father". And when He teaches you and me to pray together, only then does He use the phrase "our Father" as the model phrase for us to use together. But when speaking of Himself along with us, He never uses the phrase, "our Father". Instead, He says, "My Father". "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven," He says, "but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (7:21). This is because He had a unique relationship with the Father as the only begotten Son of God - a unique relationship that we can not share along with Him. Even when He rose from the dead, He made a distinction and told Mary to tell the disciples, ". . . I am ascending to My Father and Your Father, and to My God and your God" (John 20:17).
So, just think of what a great and wise Teacher He was! Never was there a teacher like Jesus! No one else taught on the sort of subjects He taught - subjects that are the most basic to our humanity and eternity! And no one else taught those subjects so wisely and thoroughly than He did. And no other teacher taught so consistently, and so true to Himself, as Jesus did! Jesus truly was the Master/Teacher - the Teacher sent from God!
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Jesus impressed His hearers not only as a wise Preacher, but also as . . .
2. AN ASTONISHING PREACHER.
Matthew tells us, "And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching . . ." And I enjoy the Greek word that Matthew used to describe their reaction (ekplãssõ). It's a word that uses the idea of "striking" or "smiting" something; and it conveys the sense of someone being so filled with amazement and astonishment as to be dumfounded - 'struck out of their wits'. This word, then, lets us know that Jesus' sermon "knocked folks out of their minds" with amazement and left them "stunned" when it was over! (Now, how long has it been since a sermon did that to you?)
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It' s fascinating to think about the ways that people sometimes reacted to Jesus' teaching. The Bible tells us that, sometimes, people heard what He had to say, and they couldn't take the hard things that He was saying anymore and they went away (John 6:60-66). On one occasion, they got so mad at Him that they sought to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). Once, after hearing what He had to say, people picked up stones to stone Him to death (John 10:31). (Now, how long has it been since you've wanted to do those kinds of things to a preacher? . . . On second thought, don't answer that.)
But there were other times when people had a different reaction to His preaching. Once, when the Pharisees sent guards out to arrest Him, the guards started to listen - and then forgot to arrest Him! They came back without Him; and when the Pharisees asked why they didn't bring Him, they said, "No man ever spoke like this Man!" (John 7:46). His enemies would confront Him and try to trap Him in His words; and then He would answer them, and they would go from 'marveling' at His words (Matthew 22:22), to being "astonished at His teaching" (v. 33), to being 'silenced' (v. 34), to finally being unable to answer Him a word, or daring to question Him any further (v. 46). He would teach in the synagogue, and people would be astonished at the teaching they heard from Him there (Mark 1:21-22; Luke 4:32). People from His home town would bear witness to Him and "marvel at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth" (Luke 4:22). The apostle John testified that Jesus was "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14); and Peter testified that there was no one else to listen to, because He alone had "the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
We may be used to the Sermon on The Mount, because we've heard it many times and read it often. But we mustn't ever forget that, when it was first spoken, this divine Preacher left His listeners "astonished" by what He said. In fact, the word that is used is in a tense of the verb (the imperfect tense) that suggests that the more they heard, the more and more astonished they became!
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What was it that left them so astonished? I suppose one answer would be the things that He taught, and the great themes that He touched on. I would expect, too, that it had something to do with the masterful manner in which He spoke and communicated truth. But I think that the most astonishing aspect of His teaching would have been the things that He was saying about Himself! No other preacher would have dared to say the things that Jesus said!
He would say, for example, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake" (5:11). Imagine that! He said people would be "blessed" if they were persecuted for His sake! In fact, He even told His listeners that, when they are persecuted for His sake, they should rejoice and be exceedingly glad, "for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (v. 12). In other words, He was daring to say that when the prophets of old were persecuted for the sake of God in the Old Testament, it was equivalent to His followers being persecuted for His own sake! Surely, people would have been astonished at hearing Him say such things about Himself. Only a madman would make such claims - unless those claims were true. But surely, the Holy Spirit was also testifying to their hearts the truth of what He was saying!
Or consider what He says next. He says that those who were listening to Him - that is, His followers - were "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world"; and that those who let their light shine, as His followers, would be advancing on earth the glory of their Father in heaven! This claim is a step removed from Himself, of course; because He's talking about His followers. But imagine the astonishment on the part of those who heard Him as they understood how He was elevating His followers because of their connection to Himself!
Or consider this: He dared to tell His listeners, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets . . ." (5:17). (And I wonder if anyone in His audience picked up on the fact that He said that He "came", instead of saying that He was "born". He was born into the human family; but He was born as One who had already existed from before eternity, and was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. As it says in John 1:10-11, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him." He's very specific in saying that He "came".)
He says, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." Think of it! The Preacher they were listening to dared to say that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets! This was basically a claim to be the great 'Promise' of the Scriptures; and that what the Scriptures promised is what He came to fulfill and fully accomplish! Elsewhere, He said to the Jews, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39). What an astonishing thing it was that they were hearing from Him! And yet, it was true!
Near the end of His sermon, He said that. when the great Day of Judgment will come, it will be He Himself that people would be standing before! He said, "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" (7:22). What a claim to make! What's more, He clearly made Himself out to be the Judge! He said, "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (v. 23). He makes the privilege of being known by Him the determinative factor in being allowed to enter into the kingdom of heaven! In fact, He even equates being known by Him with the doing of His Father's will (v. 21)! What an astonishing thing to say! How blasphemous - if not true!
At the very end of His sermon, as He calls forth a response to all that He has said in this sermon, He says that obedience to His instruction is what made the difference between someone being "wise" or being "a fool". He said, "Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock. . . . But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand . . ." (7:24, 27). Who would dare to say such a thing but the Son of God Himself?
And may I suggest to you that, if we truly pay attention to Jesus' words in the power of the Holy Spirit - not only to what He says here in the Sermon on The Mount, but to what He says throughout the Scripture - they will amaze us just as much today? He teaches us many astonishing things in this sermon; but one of the most astonishing things of all is what He teaches us about Himself! He forces us to come to a conclusion - that this Preacher is claiming to be God in human flesh! - the very Son of God! - the second Person of the Trinity! He is saying, "I am who My Father said I am; when He said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'!"
If you haven't come away from this study of the Sermon on The Mount in a state of "astonishment" over its divine Preacher - and of who He claimed to be - then you haven't yet heard it as you should!
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And all of this leads us to one more way that this sermon impressed its original listeners; and that is that its Preacher was . . .
3. AN AUTHORITATIVE PREACHER.
Matthew goes on in our text to tell us that people were astonished at Jesus' teaching, "for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."
The scribes were the experts in the study and interpretation of the Law of Moses. And they were careful to teach their interpretations to the people of God. But we would have to say that their teaching was from a "derived" authority. They were authoritative only so long as they quoted from someone else who had authority.
For example, they would begin what they wanted to say by affirming, "You have heard that it was said to those of old . . ."; and then they would quote the authority. Perhaps it would be a word of Scripture from the Old Testament. By the time of the ministry of John the Baptist, there had not been a prophet from God for 400 years; and so, they could not claim to have an original word from God. So they would say, "You have heard that it was said to those of old by the prophets"; and then quote Scripture. Or, they would quote the interpretation or application of Scripture that had been recorded and passed down from one of the esteemed rabbis or teachers from the past; and so they would say, "You have heard that it was said to those of old by Rabbi Such and Such . . ."; and then they would quote that esteemed rabbi or teacher. In any case, the scribes only had "derived" authority - but they never taught from what we would call "original" or "direct" authority.
But the people who heard Jesus' sermon were quick to notice that that's not the way He taught. He did not appeal to authority; but spoke as if He Himself was the authority. When He taught the people the true intention of God's Law, He would say, "You have heard that it was said to those of old . . ."; and then He would quote what some other authority said. But then, He would shock everyone by saying, "But I say to you . . ."; and He would then either give the true interpretation of God's Law, or would completely undue what some past teacher said about the Law.
In fact, we could go further and say that He stood out as distinct even from the Old Testament prophets. When they spoke from God, they said, "Thus says the Lord . . ." and then they would give the message that had been given to them from God. But Jesus didn't even do that! He said, "But I say to you . . ."; as if He Himself spoke as God! And as you look elsewhere in the Bible, you see that He said some of the most remarkable things imaginable on the basis of His "direct" authority. For example, in Mark 3:28, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation." He quotes no prophet in saying this unprecedented thing; but simply says, "Assuredly, I say to you . . ."
Or consider what He says in Luke 12:37: "Blessed are those servants whom the master, when He comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that He will gird Himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them." Again, there is nothing of this in the Old Testament Scriptures. It's something that He affirms simply by saying, "Assuredly, I say to you . . ."
Or consider what our Lord says in John 6:47. Here's a truly remarkable statement! "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life." And once again, the only authority He appeals to for this great affirmation is His own - "Most assuredly, I say to you . . ." And there are many, many more such statements that came from the lips of our Savior; and in all of it, He claimed, "The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works" (John 14:10). Jesus' authority was not "derived" but "direct". He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18).
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; the point in all of this is that this great sermon that we have studied together - the Sermon on The Mount - is meant to point us, most of all, to its divine Preacher. We are to respond to it by recognizing that He is a Preacher who is marvelously instructive, stunningly astonishing, and utterly authoritative. And if, as a result of hearing His great sermon, He is not elevated in your heart and adored in your worship, then you haven't heard this sermon as you should at all!
What a wonderful Preacher Jesus was. People were in awe of Him for His wisdom, His majesty, and His authority. May God help us to adore this greatest of all Preachers - and bow to Him as God's own Son and our blessed Savior!
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