Teaching and Authority … or Authority and Teaching

Teaching and Authority … or Authority and Teaching

of you may remember an ad campaign several years ago for a particular
investment firm. The premise was that the advice given by this firm was so
valuable, whenever one of their customers was about to repeat it to a friend or
colleague, everyone within earshot would fall completely silent, so they could
hear these supposed pearls of financial wisdom. The campaign’s tagline was,
“When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

of Jesus’ early ministry seems to have earned him a similar reputation. When
Jesus spoke, people listened. He held large crowds spellbound for long periods
of time, communicating His message regarding the kingdom of God.

evangelists who recorded the Gospels tell us on several occasions that, after
Jesus had finished speaking, people were amazed by what He had said, and often
more so by how He had said it.

text for today, from the seventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel, is the concluding
section of the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon occupies essentially all of
what later became chapters five, six, and seven of that book of the Bible.
Starting way back in chapter five, Jesus had given the Beatitudes, those
wonderful assurances of blessings that would come to those who were lacking or
suffering in some way. Then Jesus had elaborated on important lessons from the
Law and the Prophets. Several times He told the crowd, “You have heard it said…”
regarding some point of the Law, then going further by saying, “but I say to
you…” He taught His hearers what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, and He
provided many warnings.

at the end of chapter seven as He wraps up His sermon, Jesus concludes with more
Law for His listeners. He gives them three primary warnings: Against false
prophets, against false faith, and against false doctrine. [PAUSE]

of the first of these—false prophets—Jesus says: “They come to you in
sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” [v.15b]

are these false prophets of whom Jesus speaks? The term “prophets” in the
Bible did not specifically or always mean those predicting future events. In
the New Testament, unless referring to the Old, the word “prophet” was more
frequently used to indicate pastors and teachers in general.

prophets are not those who would threaten the church from the world outside,
but rather those who would corrupt it from within.

later years, St. Paul warned the pastors of the church at Ephesus that after
him, wolves would come. They would not spare the flock of believers, but would
attempt to ravage the flock, and he told the faithful that these wolves would
be men from within the church itself. (Acts 20:29)

prophets are deceptive. They try to hide what they really are. Wolves in
sheep’s clothing, to which these prophets are compared, are a subtle but
dangerous threat. They appear innocent to the unsuspecting, yet they can be
dangerous and deadly to our faith. They threaten our eternal life, even
if they seem to make this life somehow “better”—more comfortable, less
complex, less challenging. But false prophets speak with the world’s
viewpoint, not God’s. If we listen to the world’s message, the Bible tells us,
we are not of God, and are not of the truth. (1 John 4:5)

false prophets are also bad trees, which yield bad fruits. That is, they
generate believers in the wrong things. You cannot hide what sort of tree you
are once the fruit has formed on the branches:

prophets are not the sort of trees which grow grapes and figs that nourish and
satisfy. Instead, they produce only thorns and thistles of false belief, which
injure and entangle those who come too close.

warns that these false prophets will be cut down. They will be thrown into
fire in the next life; they will face judgment and punishment for leading
others astray. [PAUSE]

speaks in the next section of false faith, saying:

everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only
he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” [v.21]

have a false faith if we only give lip service to calling on His name, even if
we seem to do so with great piety and earnestness.

faith also exists if we begin to slip into reliance on our own works for our
salvation. Even our best efforts, done unselfishly and motivated by the Holy
Spirit, do not save us. They are a fruit of faith, not the source of it. The
kindest act of the sweetest pagan is still sin. Article 18 of the Augsburg
Confession’s Apology says that without God’s grace and faith, we can do no good
in God’s sight. Without faith, we would be—like the false prophets—only bad
trees that can bear no good fruit. All these with false faith will be banished
from heaven, regardless of their praise and their attempts at self-justifying

says plainly that those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of
heaven. This sounds like works righteousness, doesn’t it? Yet doing the will
of the Father cannot possibly be this, or else those who prophesy and do great
works in Jesus name for the sake of their own justification and salvation would
be highly esteemed by Him, not banished from His presence with a plain and
clear dismissal. [PAUSE]

Lord’s third warning in our text is against false doctrine. Here He says:

everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is
like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” [v.26]

like false doctrine, is unstable. It is soft and easily changed in form and
shape. When it is dry, it crumbles, breaks apart, and can be blown around by
shifting winds. When it is impure, saturated with corrupting materials, it
becomes soupy and loose.

down far enough, doctrine becomes quicksand—dangerous stuff, which cannot
support you, but instead will allow you to sink slowly and fearfully to a
horrible, gritty, and painful death.

a house is built on unstable sand, first the shifting ground causes the house to
warp and twist, cracking its walls and letting the rain and wind come in. The
water wets us; the wind chills us; the rising flood waters ruin our valuable
treasures. Finally, the effects of the wind and the waters on our unstable,
damaged houses of faith cause them to crumble, to collapse, to be swept away in
the torrent.

tells us that those who hear and “act on” His words will be like a wise man,
building on solid rock. That “rock” is His word. If we believe Jesus’ words
and act on them, we will be safe in our house of faith. Good doctrine is based
on God’s words alone, and it remains solid in spite of whatever the world
throws at it.

and water will eventually erode natural rock, but the supernatural rock of
Jesus’ divine, word—the word of the Lord—endures forever, as the prophet Isaiah

wants us to hold fast to His words, to base our safety and security and
confidence in that word which conveys His gospel. We are to count on it, and
call upon it and call upon His name, in all times and in all places.

warns that the hearers and followers of false teachers will share in the same
fate as the false teachers themselves. He tells us that right teaching does
matter. Right faith does matter. Right doctrine does matter.
Even St. John, that apostle who we so often think of as emphasizing love, the
one who wrote so eloquently of the love of God, and the love we are to show one
another, was guided by the Holy Spirit to state bluntly:

anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into
your house, and do not welcome him, for the one who welcomes him participates
in his evil deeds.”
(2 John

then, is the Gospel in this concluding text from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
which we heard earlier today? There are warnings, yes. Consequences, sure.
Punishments, absolutely. But Gospel?

Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching,
because He taught as one who had authority.” [v.28-29a]

amazed the crowds about Jesus’ teaching was His authority. Few of Jesus’
listeners at the time knew, and others only suspected, what we know with
certainty today: that Jesus spoke with the authority of God Himself.

had that authority for one simple but profound reason: Not because He had
superior human wisdom or eloquence or the gift of persuasion. Not because
Jesus had lived a sinless, righteous life. Not even because Jesus has
miraculous power. Jesus has authority because Jesus is the Christ, the
only-begotten Son of God, and this authority had been given to Him by the

can we be certain of Jesus’ authority? Well, at His baptism, the Father spoke,
and said that He was well pleased with His Son. At His Transfiguration, the
Father spoke again, and said that we should listen to Him. Jesus demonstrated
that He indeed had the authority to forgive sins because He backed it up with
the sign of healing miracles. Jesus spoke in John’s gospel that He had the
authority, by the Father’s command, to lay down His life and to take it up
again—authority which he proved by His own death and resurrection.

is the significance, then, of Jesus’ authority? As the Son, He comes from the
Father, and speaks for Him. The fact of the matter is: If Jesus were not the
one fulfilling all those demands and requirements of the Law which He places
before us in the Sermon on the Mount, then this entire discourse in Matthew’s
gospel would be Law, and not Gospel at all. But the Sermon on the Mount is no
mere list of rules, no set of moral imperatives that we must try to live by in
order to be righteous. Rather, the Sermon on the Mount shows that Christ also
has authority because He has accomplished all of it on our behalf.

Jesus alone had the authority
to die for your sins

alone had the authority to apply the effects of His righteousness to you. His
authority is sufficient to allow God to declare, “On account of My Son, your
sins are atoned for. Your debt is forgiven. Your life is restored.”

authority remains operative for us today, and—thanks be to God—it does not
consist merely of His warnings and commands. Jesus’ authority is over sin,
death, and Satan. He demonstrated that authority on the cross, and at the
empty tomb. And as He told His apostles after the resurrection, all authority
in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.

of this, He instructed the apostles to carry out that authority unto all the
earth—not as a set of demands, but as His gracious gifts: The gift of making
disciples; the gift of washing them clean in baptism; the gift of observing—of
treasuring—all that He had commanded them.

authority for us resides in His word, the rock on which our house of faith is
built by the Spirit. Built on that rock of His word alone is the one, true
church; that fellowship of believers who will be saved from the later and
greater Fall to come.

word of God is God. The Word is His way of reaching out to us and to
this fallen, perishing world today. Through His word, His Spirit comes to us.
Through His word, forgiveness is ours. Listening to Jesus’ words is nothing
less than listening to Jesus Himself. His words have not changed. His
teaching has not changed. His message has not changed.

eternal word is our authority and our defense against false prophets. Our
Lutheran Confessions on several occasions warn us that the church is not to
follow or obey false prophets. (AC28; Ap7,8; Tr41; SD10) It is the duty of the
church, the duty of each and every believer, to hold the words of preachers and
teachers up against the words of Jesus. It will help ensure that the wolves do
not come into the midst of our flocks. It will help ensure that there are good
trees producing good fruit.

the building up of the body of Christ, our lives will not be driven by purpose,
or prosperity, or pop culture, but by promise—God’s promise. Serving our
neighbors as God’s instruments on earth, we are confident in the salvation that
is given to us by Christ’s merit and not by our own.

word is also our authority and our defense against false faith. Only those who
do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven, but this is not a
matter of any action on our part which seeks to earn His favor. Those who do
His will and will be saved are not those who praise or follow Jesus simply as a
teacher of wisdom or an example of the moral life. Rather, doing the will of
the Father is confessing Jesus as the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Son
of the Most High God. It is recognizing that He has fulfilled all of the Law
and the Prophets for us. It is trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus for the
remission of our sins. And it is having confidence and hope in our salvation
and eternal life through His resurrection.

God’s eternal and unchanging word is also our authority and our defense against
false doctrine. Those who ignore Jesus’ words will meet a fate like those who
failed to heed Noah’s warning; they will be swept away in a flood of eternal
destruction. We, however, listen to the words of the Son, as the Son has
listened to the Father, and has done His will.

amazed along with those ancient crowds, then, that Jesus taught, and still
teaches, with authority. Rejoice that this authority still dwells in His
Church through his holy word. Give thanks that by Christ’s authority, and not
his own, a pastor baptized you in God’s name. By Christ’s authority, and not
their own, pastors preach and teach His word. By Christ’s authority, and not
their own, they forgive you all your sins. By Christ’s authority, and not
their own, they speak His words, “my body, given for you… my blood, shed for

the certainty of Christ’s authority to forgive your sins, to conquer your
death, and to provide you everlasting life, bring you peace and comfort and
joy, this day and always. Amen.