“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. – Matthew 7:24-29
The first hearers of Jesus message weren’t saying, “Hey, this is cute… Jesus is doing children’s ministry. Let’s turn it into a song.” No, they were astonished. In the Greek, this word carries the idea of being amazed so as to be overwhelmed. They were awestruck, floored!
My Bible has Jesus’ words in red. I gravitate to them. Don’t you? I mean: His words are the very words of God, right? And yes, they are! But don’t overlook those other words, the words in black. This is the words of the narrator (Matthew in this case) and these words are essential.
Two quick reasons: First, they’re scripture, so they are also God-inspired. But secondly, they serve as stage directions in the gospel (see Don Everts’ God in the Flesh for more on this). In a theater or film script, stage directions are those little notes between the dialogue that says, “so-and-so exits stage left” or “so-and-so gasps.”
In the gospels, these words in black can serve a very similar purpose. Again and again, they tell us how people respond to Jesus (His presence, His ministry, His teaching). Sometimes people fall down on their faces; others break into spontaneous worship; sometimes the crowds get angry. People are offended or amazed or sacred – or sometimes all three! There are all sorts of responses to Jesus’ teachings and actions. And these responses can often clue us in to the context…
>>If the original audience is angry or offended, and I just can’t figure out why: that’s a clue that there’s some cultural context I’m missing (may Jesus was challenging some deeply held values or power structures that I’m not familiar with).
>>If the original hearers break into praise and worship, and I don’t get what they are so excited about: it’s a clue to me that I’m not picking up on some underlying context (maybe Jesus was speaking to an expectation from scripture or Jewish literature to which my ears aren’t attuned).
>>And here in our text this morning, if the crowd is astonished (amazed so as to be overwhelmed) by Jesus… but I’m just like, that’s a cute story, or hey, that could be a cute kids song… I’m probably missing the point!
So let’s ask the question: What are we missing? Why is the crowd astonished?