To be impressed with the authority of Jesus was not bad for the simple reason that it meant being impressed with Him. And the Sermon on the Mount was not ineffective, even if it was not perfectly understood, so long as it fulfilled the function. It is the same today. At the very beginning of these studies, in the very first message, I pointed out that one very important reason for studying the Sermon on the Mount was that like all Scripture, it points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. The preacher of the Sermon on the Mount is the Sermon on the Mount, and so by studying it we are brought into the most intimate contact with Him. There is much we may not have understood. But this at least should have happened: we should have seen Him. And thus, at the end of these studies, it is proper to glance upward to the Lord Jesus Christ once more and to reflect on the authority which was His then and is His now, the authority with which these words were spoken.
We need to do this piecemeal. And we need to begin with the authority of Christ’s words themselves, for it was these that first made an impression on Christ’s hearers. Did His words have intrinsic authority? Certainly they did, and anyone can see it. If a person will study the teachings of Jesus Christ, in this Sermon and throughout the Gospels, he will soon see that they have an intuitive assurance and character that distinguish them from all of the other words of men.
Christ’s most startling revelation was Himself. As early as the Beatitudes, in His words about persecution, Jesus assumed that the persecution His hearers would experience would be persecution “for His sake,” not for His teaching’s sake but because of their relationship to Him. In the next section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus set Himself up as the authoritative expounder of the law. He repeatedly said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old, Thou shalt do so and so. But I say unto you…” thereby placing Himself above the rabbis and scribes and doing so without the slightest apology, reserve, or qualification.
He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” In other words, “I am the Messiah.” In chapter six he instructs men how to give alms, how to pray, how to fast, how to avoid materialism and anxiety. In the final chapter He warns against anything that might turn attention from Himself and thus lead the wanderer into judgment. He ends by saying, “Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand” (Matt. 7:24, 26).
These statements immediately distinguish Jesus from all other religious teachers. For, as one commentator observes, “They are self-effacing: He is self-advancing. They point away from themselves and say, ‘That is the truth as far as I perceive it, follow that.’ Jesus says, ‘I am the truth; follow me.’”1 Certainly, if any man ever spoke with authority, it was Jesus.
1John R. W. Stott, Basic Christianity (Chicago, IL: InterVarsity, 1968), 22.