The King’s Authority
Do you remember where you were when you heard something that you’ll never forget?
Maybe it was news like September 11, 2001. I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings, and spent much of the rest of that day trying to figure out what had taken place.
Maybe it was hearing and understanding the gospel for the first time. I was six years old, out at Torch Trail Bible Camp, when I heard my dad explain the message of the cross to a group of campers. That’s my earliest memory of understanding the gospel. It was right around my eighth birthday, almost two years later, when my dad explained the lordship of Jesus to me, and I prayed that night, through tears, to commit my life to Jesus.
Maybe there’s some other messages you’ve heard that you remember clearly. I’ll never forget being at a pastor’s conference back in 2006 and hearing Ligon Duncan preach on Numbers chapter 6 in a way that forever revolutionized the way that I think about the Old Testament and Christ being the fulfillment of it. Two years later at another conference I heard R.C. Sproul, one of the greatest teachers of the past generation, preach on the atonement in a way that shook me to my core.
I’ve heard some really good preaching in my life and can point to many moments where the Lord used specific messages to impact me in life-altering ways.
But I don’t think any of these experiences I’ve had, or maybe similar ones you’ve had, can hold a candle to the experience of these very first disciples hearing the Sermon on the Mount for the very first time. Did anyone ever speak like Jesus? Would there ever have been a more compelling preacher? A more arresting message? A teaching that would have been burnt more strongly onto the memories of its listeners?
We shouldn’t be surprised by what we see right there in verse 28: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching.”
“Astonished.” “Amazed” in the NIV. They were blown away by what they had heard. I looked this word up in the original language to see what other contexts it was used in, to see what other sorts of things people were astonished or amazed at. And you know what? Every single use of this word have to do with people being astonished with Jesus or His teaching or the message of the gospel. When you read the Bible, nobody gets astonished about anything else. But they are repeatedly astonished with Jesus.
Notice it says they were astonished at his teaching. That word “teaching” can speak to both what He taught and how He taught, and certainly both are in view here. They were astonished at the things He said and they were astonished at how He said them.
And why is this? Why were they so astonished? Verse 29: “for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
This is what blew them away. Jesus’ authority. They were astonished at Jesus’ teaching because He was teaching them as one who had authority. And they had never seen this kind of authority before. Look at how verse 29 finishes up: “for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
We have some writings from scribes and rabbis from around the time of Jesus. And what you see there is that most of the time they said almost nothing original. They spent most of their time quoting from other rabbis. And then they would teach from the law or make decisions from it based on what these previous rabbis had taught and how they all fit together with each other.
But did you notice how different from this Jesus was? He barely quotes from Moses, let alone from anybody else. He says things like, “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” He speaks with so much personal authority.
Now to be fair, there were some teachers around the time of Jesus who didn’t just point to other rabbis. There were some other rabbis who did propose some new creative interpretations of the law. But even here these scribes don’t even hold a candle to Jesus. Because none of these other teachers even tried to do what Jesus did here in the Sermon on the Mount.
See, the authority of Jesus wasn’t just in how He taught. The authority of Jesus is seen in the way that Jesus Himself is at the centre of His teaching.
He claimed in 5:11 that faithful citizens of the kingdom would be persecuted on His account. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). Just think about that. Those who are living the blessed life of the kingdom will be persecuted for their allegiance to Jesus.
Imagine anybody else saying that kind of thing, and how radical it would sound. But Jesus says it. And then in 5:17 that He was not there to abolish the Law and the Prophets, the Hebrew Scriptures, but that He was there to fulfill them. Again, imagine anybody else saying that. Who would even think of saying, “I’m not here to tear down your Bible.” And who would even dream to add, “Instead, I’m here to fulfill your Bible.” But that’s what Jesus said.
And then in the rest of chapter 5 He quotes from the Law of Moses saying “you have heard that it was said,” and then adds “But I tell you,” and proceeds to give us His authoritative explanation. And He goes beyond just interpreting the law. When it comes to divorce or swearing oaths or practicing retaliation or loving your enemies, Jesus teaches a righteousness that goes far beyond what God revealed through Moses. And He makes no excuses or apologies for this. He just delivers it all on the basis of His own personal authority.
He told us in 7:21, which we saw last week, that He will be the judge on judgement day deciding on people’s destinies. What ultimately matter on Judgement day is whether or not He knows us. And the evidence that stands between those who are saved and those who are destroyed is what they did with these words of Jesus (v. 24-26).
So do you see this? It’s not just that the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching. It’s that Jesus Himself is at the centre of that teaching.
Throughout history some people have imagined that the Sermon on the Mount was just a collection of nice moral sayings from a nice teacher teacher that people should just try and practice regardless of their religious convictions. Because, you know, it’s just nice, general stuff that will make us all better people.
But that kind of idea simply doesn’t work with the Sermon itself. The Sermon on the Mount is fundamentally a message about Jesus with Jesus Himself at the centre. And like we saw last week, this is a message that forces us to reckon with Jesus Himself. We can’t stay neutral about Him. This is a sermon that demands our surrender.
And that’s what astonishes the crowds. Maybe some brave rabbis would offer new interpretations without quoting other scribes. But nobody else had ever claimed that the Scriptures all pointed to them and that they were there to do, to fulfill, all that had been promised about them.
Nobody else had ever claimed that certain parts of Moses’ law—like the eye-for-an-eye principle—should be set aside, now that they had arrived, because they were calling their followers to something better. Nobody else had ever claimed to be the judge on judgement day, and told people that their eternal destinies hinged on what they did with their words.
Nobody else had ever spoken like this man. And the crowds were astonished because He taught as one who had authority.
From the beginning, Matthew’s gospel has been presenting Jesus to us as the Messiah, as the Christ—God’s anointed king. And that’s what we’ve seen in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus acting and speaking, not just like a king, but like The King, because that’s who He is.
And so now we’re finished with this part of Matthew’s gospel, but in another year or two we’re going to be coming back to pick up where we left off in Matthew 8. The whole next section of Matthew is about Jesus’ kingly authority over sickness and disease and weather and demons and people. In Matthew 8 we meet two men, so fierce that nobody could pass that way, who come whimpering at Jesus’ feet. We see Jesus talk to storms and the storms listen to Him.
And the authority of Jesus continues throughout Matthew’s gospel up until one of the greatest displays of His authority imaginable, when He laid down His life for His people. How many men would have defended themselves? How many men would have fought back against the mocking of the soldiers? But Jesus the King, full of strength and authority, strongly and silently laid down His life to pay for the sins of His people.
And then, like we’ve been remembering and celebrating this morning, He took it up again. Like Jesus explained in John 10, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17–18).
Jesus Christ is the first and only person in history to pick up His own life again after laying it down. Talk about authority. And in response to His magnificent victory God the Father has crowned Him with glory and honour and appointed Him the heir of all things and the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
Like Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22–24).
“Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33).
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
This is the meaning of the resurrection. Jesus is both Lord and Messiah—anointed, promise-fulfilling King.
And that’s why Matthew’s gospel ends with Jesus, risen from the dead, on a mountain in Galilee, declaring to His disciples that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).
Jesus does not just teach as one who has authority. Jesus actually has all authority in heaven and on earth.
All authority. Just think about that. Think about all of the authorities that exist just in our town. Authority of parents over their children. Authority of homeowners over their property. Authority of teachers over their classrooms. Authority of business owners over their employees. Authority of the municipal government over the affairs of the town.
And this man Jesus has authority over all of that. All that authority actually belongs to Him. And now zoom out to think of this globe, and know that Jesus has all authority over every government, over every classroom, over every business, over every family, over every bank account, over every relationship, over every decision, over the lives of every person.
As Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”1Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty: The Inaugural Address at the Opening of the Free University of Amsterdam, 1880,” in James D. Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.
And it goes beyond because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. Every angel and every demon and every planet and every nebula and every galaxy is under the authority of the risen king Jesus.
Now at the same time, we know that we’re still somewhere in the middle of the biggest story ever told, somewhere in between the already and the not yet. We live in a time after the resurrection, when Jesus has been handed all authority by the Father, and yet we live before His return, and in this time this authority of Christ is not recognized by most of the world. There are still all kinds of smaller authorities trying to compete with Jesus, trying to exercise their own authority without recognizing the supremacy of Jesus over them. Billions of people in the world today do not know that Jesus has been made king of the world and that they owe Him their allegiance.
And that’s where our mission comes in. “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18–20).
A Christian is someone who has come to understand that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, and so they are baptized in the name of the triune God and begin to learn how to observe all that Jesus commanded us, which includes the Sermon on the Mount.
That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. As we submit to the authority of Jesus, and learn how to observe all that He commanded us in the Sermon on the Mount and beyond, Jesus is exercising His authority in our lives. We are living as citizens of His kingdom, God ruling in our hearts and lives through the word of His son.
This is why we talk about the church as an embassy of the kingdom of heaven. We are a group of kingdom citizens, together learning to observe all that Jesus commanded. EBC, like every other local church, is supposed to be like a little outpost of heaven’s kingdom, showing the world what Jesus’ reign looks like and then using our words to tell the world about this Jesus. We learn to live under Jesus’ authority so that we might teach others to do the same.
What I Hope this Series has Done
And so I hope you know that this series in Matthew 1-7 has not just been about some wonderful stories. This has been about our king and us, as a church, growing in our understanding of His authority over us.
I hope you know that these past three months in the Sermon on the Mount have not just been about some interesting morals. This has been about learning the authoritative words of our king so that we might observe what He’s commanded us and so live out our lives under His rule as His disciples.
And I hope that as we come to the end of this series you, like Jesus’ original hearers, are astonished with this man who taught in this way. And I hope that this astonishment has helped give you a clearer vision for your life and our life together. If you are a Christian, than you are—or at least you must be—a disciple of Jesus. A citizen of the kingdom. Our church is a place where Jesus does—or at least needs to—have ultimate authority in all things, and where we submit to His authority together.
And the world around is a place full of people who need to repent because the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
I know how offensive that message is to people in today’s world. I know how difficult it is to speak that truth to people. But we have no choice because this is real. We serve a real King who rules over a real kingdom who died on a real cross and really walked out of a real tomb and who is really coming to take over planet earth like He promised.
And the more those truths shape our thinking, the more we are astonished at Jesus and His authority, the more we understand that all authority in heaven and on earth really has been given to Him, the more we will be ready to play our part in this great work of being and making disciples of all nations, starting here at home and reaching to the corners of this planet.
So how are you going to respond to this passage? How are you going to respond to this series? It’s simple, isn’t it? We need to repent and believe the Gospel, if we have not before. We need to receive from God the new, Spirit-filled heart that He offers to us. And then we need to begin, or continue, to learn to obey, with His help, all that Jesus has commanded us, all for the sake of this great mission He has given us.
So let me ask you, what are your next steps as a disciple of Jesus? You’ve heard all of this truth, or if you haven’t, you can go listen on the website. You know what Jesus has told us to do. How do you need to obey? What is the next step you need to take?
Is it a conversation you need to have with someone, a relationship you need to establish? Or are there conversations you need to stop having, a relationship you need to end? Is it a practice or a behaviour you need to establish? Is it a practice or a behaviour you need to stop immediately? It is a truth you need to embrace? Is it a lie you need to reject?
Each one of us, no matter where we are in life, has a next step we need to take as a disciple of Jesus.
We’re about to watch the next steps of two young men here this morning. These two young men know that Jesus tells us to be baptized, and that baptism is the public sign that we have died to our old life with Christ and have been raised anew with Him.
They know that baptism is the public sign that we have come under the authority of the Lord Jesus and are going to live as His disciples, and so their next step us to follow Jesus through the water as they continue to live as His disciple.
That’s their next step. What’s yours? And will you take it?