Our Astonishing Reluctance of Jesus’ Authority

Dan Behrens, Co Pastor EFC

In the final verse of Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, the gospel writer asserts that those who heard these words of Jesus were “astonished”. It seems they found him not merely different but abundantly more than they had known—“he taught them as one having authority” (Mt 7:29).

What I have found to be true is that a great deal of those (both then and now) who initially regard Jesus as “astonishing” or “amazing”, “transformative” or “fresh” turn out to be a crowd of a different sort. Somewhere along the line they are exposed (and often times we are too) for being a skeptical following utterly offended at his healings, righteously appalled at his dinning with sinners, and completely outraged by his claim to be the Messiah of God. Whether it’s the practical implication of Jesus’ words or the intimate weight of Jesus’ presence, sooner or later a certain reluctance arises in our soul—“the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 7:17). His authority is what we marvel over. His authority over us is what we ultimately resist.

What I have also found to be true is that miraculous wonders and passionate sermons can not overcome a person’s will. The sovereignty of God does have its limits; Jesus can’t do everything. Even with “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18) the most our Lord can do is invite us to follow him and weep for us when we don’t. The full admission of this is found not in Jesus’ ministry efforts that follow this beloved Sermon on the Mount, but in the sermon itself. It is made clear for us in the parable of two different kinds of builder: one who builds on rock and one who builds on sand; one who is waked by solidarity and roused to action and one who remains cynically unmovable in the path of gathering rain—“everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man” (Mt 7:24).

A wise man is not seeking wisdom; he is looking for the Spirit of God to show him who is and how he ought to live. A wise man understands he’s in over his head and comes right out with it. He confesses sin. Jesus says, “I am here to help you. I am the way you should live. I am the truth of the whole matter” (Jn 14:6). We all know that to take Jesus at his word means willful repentance and obedient faith. It has to be. Jesus did not come into the world to astonish us with good advice, but to pull us up out of sinking sand. It is the immense depth of his love that presently allows us to choose his rescue or not, to grab his outstretched arm or remain flounderingly indifferent. This is all he can do; for he is righteousness and justice, the foundation of the world.

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