To Teach with Authority

Matthew 7: 28-29  When Jesus had finished saying these things the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

These verses in Matthew 7 are the concluding commentary to the Sermon on the Mount, the scriptural account of Jesus’ teaching to the large crowds.  There was something different about the way Jesus taught, because the crowds were “amazed”, and they noticed that Jesus did not teach like their teachers – he had “authority”.

I heard a teacher, with considerable training in Jewish customs, speak about this passage and explain the Jewish custom of rabbinical teaching.  A rabbi would teach his students by presenting a law, informing them how to interpret it, and finally how to live it out.  In doing so, he would always cite another rabbi (e.g. Joshua ben Perachyah said…), basically citing a precedent. The Mishnah is the compilation of the teachings of the rabbis. If you want to know how to keep clean, you can go to the Mishnah and find 8 pages of instructions citing numerous rabbis.

In contrast to the rabbinical teachers, Jesus never cited another man, but instead spoke on behalf of God.  Understanding the Jewish tradition, one can see why the Jewish religious leaders had such anger towards Jesus.  Who was this man defying teaching tradition and claiming to speak on behalf of God?  The ordinary people, however, were drawn to Jesus, because they recognized his authority when he spoke.

While nothing compares to the authority of Jesus’ teaching, I witnessed something which helped me better understand teaching authority.  Years ago, my son Nathaniel was struggling to pole vault prior to a big track & field meet, and in the absence of a coach I attempted to give him advice.  Self admittedly, I know very little about pole vault, but I tried to share what I could from the practises I had watched.  My son let me know that my observations were of little help and the day ended in frustration.  A couple days later, my son was in California with a pole vault coach, Johnny Quinn, and I watched Nathaniel hang on to his every word.  Within an hour, Nathaniel’s issues were solved and not only could he get over the bar again, he set a personal best.  So, what was the difference?

Johnny spoke with authority.  He had been trained by a great coach, he himself had an impressive resume (5.41m personal record), and he was coaching and improving the performances of other athletes.  When he spoke, it just made sense to Nathaniel.  In contrast, when I spoke on the topic of pole vaulting, I lacked all of the above, and did not speak with authority.  On other topics, such as Biblical truths, technical writing, even soccer or x-country skiing, Nathaniel would welcome my input, because I can speak with at least a measure of authority in those areas.

So, when Jesus spoke, I could imagine the crowds hanging on every word.  There was something about the way Jesus spoke that overwhelmed them.  He spoke truth, he spoke with an indescribable love rather than zealous legalism.  In John 6, after delivering a tough teaching, many of his disciples left Jesus (vs 66) and he asked the twelve disciples if they wanted to leave too.  Simon Peter said “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (vs 68).  Peter had hit the nail on the head.  Jesus spoke words of life.

Knowing that Jesus Christ is the source of authority, knowing that he speaks life, how much of your time is spent filling your mind with the things of Christ.  Is he the preeminent teacher in your life or are you filling your mind with the wisdom of the world?  Ensure that you have the mind of Christ so that you can be one who speaks with authority on behalf of our Lord (1 Corinthians 2: 15-16).

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