Warning: I totally geeked out on this message!!!
My holy curiosity got a hold of me in a big way in this week’s message.
Part Four of the series, Overhearing the Message, was intended to conclude our reading of the introductory verses to the “Sermon on the Mount.” And, I think it accomplished that end.
I totally geeked out with the significance of one detail: “The crowds were astounded at his teaching…” (Matthew 7:28)
If you want to let your Holy Curiosity run wild for a little bit, check out this final message in the series, Overhearing the Gospel.
If you want to geek out with me for a second, then keep reading…
The key point of my message was to emphasize the crowd that gathered around the disciples made up a secondary audience (the disciples being the primary audience). By making this observation, I would then reinforce the reality that all of us (reading or hearing the scripture) stood among the gathered crowd overhearing the message of Jesus. Hence, the title given to the series.
But, I got all kind of curious about the word “astounded” used to describe the crowd. Here is what I learned as I dug a little deeper:
Matthew 7:28-29 makes up a formula used throughout the Gospel of Matthew. There are five total “discourses” attributed to Jesus in Matthew. Each of these five discourses reflect upon the specific teachings of Jesus:
- The Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7)
- The Commissioning of the Twelve (Chapter 10)
- The Parables of the Kingdom (Chapter 13)
- The Relationships among Followers of Jesus (Chapter 18)
- The Olivet Discourse (Chapters 23-25)
Each of these five discourses end with the words, “When Jesus had finished saying the things…” or a phrase very close to this translation. The author of Matthew uses this particular phase to signal the completion of Jesus’ teaching.
There is also a second component to this formula. The phrase is followed by a change in the physical location of Jesus. A moment occurs placing Jesus in a new setting or a new situation. The shift in location serves as a transition back into the narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Verse 28-29, therefore, signal the conclusion of Jesus’ first teaching and the author’s transition back into the narrative account of Jesus’ life and ministry.
The detail perking my curiosity, “the crowds were astounded with his teaching,” is inserted between the “a” and the “b” of this unique formula in Matthew’s gospel.
Coming to this realization only further agitated my curiosity.
The author must have had a good reason for inserting this particular detail here? Why might realizing the crowd’s astonishment be relevant?
The term astounded has an interesting story. The word (ἐξεπλήσσοντο) is the imperfect passive of ekplesso, which means to overwhelm by filling with amazement. It is a compound word that links the words ex (out of; or, away from) with plesso (to strike with force). Ekplesso literally means to strike out of with force or to expel by a blow!
Imagine getting hit so hard in the stomach you loose your breath! You have been hit so hard and with such force something is knocked out of you!
The teaching of Jesus astounded the crowd. His teaching overwhelmed them with a force of amazement. The words of Jesus hit them so hard, it took their breath away!
The crowds were struck with amazement by the teaching of Jesus because “he taught them as one having authority.” (7:29)
Exousia (ἐξουσία) is the term used for “authority.” I’ve always liked this particular word. Exousia refers to the possession of power, but it carries a different meaning with it. Exousia speaks to the right to the power one possesses. Jesus clearly is powerful. There are numerous examples where Jesus conveys his power through specific deeds (or miracles). Jesus is not simply the possessor of power. Jesus has a right to the divine power he possesses.
Jesus has authority!
The crowd encounters the authority of Jesus through his teaching! The crowd is astounded by his teaching, because the words of Jesus reveal his rightful claim to the divine power he conveys!
So, I geeked out and I let my holy curiosity run wild, because this little detail inserted between the “a” and the “b” of Matthew’s conclusion-transition formula reveals a very important key to reading the rest of Matthew’s gospel: Jesus possesses authority; and, his right to the power he possesses will overwhelm you with amazement…
…if you allow yourself to be a little curious!