And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
When Jesus began His public ministry it didn’t take long for people to figure out that something new was happening. He boldly declared that God’s kingdom had come near. The reign of God over all that He had created, which all devout Jews believed to be real and unchanging, was no longer going to be hidden – it would be revealed for all to see. The prophets had spoken of the day when a new king in David’s line, God’s anointed One (the Messiah), would establish a kingdom in which God’s true purpose for creation would be fulfilled. In that kingdom all that was wrong would be put right. The glory of God, so evident in the Law they prized would emanate from Jerusalem to the nations.
Jesus came declaring the kingdom and He called people to repent and believe the good news that a new order had arrived. The reign of God demanded that people turn their lives around – rejecting all other loyalties, acknowledging sin and obeying God. Jesus used parables to create images of the kingdom. He employed Beatitudes to reveal its counter-cultural values. He wasn’t the first teacher to speak about the nature of God’s rule or to challenge the people to repent, but His teaching was different in two ways.
Firstly, when Jesus taught He didn’t depend on previous teachers. Unlike the rabbis of His day He didn’t engage in debate about the relative merits of the various schools of thought that had evolved over centuries. He taught with authority, claiming to be the determiner of what is true. He spoke as if He had actually seen the realities He described. He claimed to be the true interpreter of the Law, indeed its fulfilment. He claimed that a person’s response to His words would decide their eternal destiny. He cast Himself as the Messiah, the King.
Secondly, Jesus’ words were accompanied by actions that demonstrated the transforming power of God’s reign. His authority was total: over nature, over unclean spirits and over death. He even claimed authority to forgive sins.
The new teaching of Jesus was not only theory – it was action. So it is with all who continue to declare today that God’s reign is a reality that can be entered through faith in Jesus, the Christ. Their words must be accompanied by actions. The reign of God must be embodied in acts of justice, compassion and, supremely, in the counter-cultural kingdom that celebrates and prays for the coming of the kingdom, the Church. Yet these actions themselves cannot bring people into the kingdom. That only happens when they hear the call of Christ, turn away from sin and trust in the gospel. The new teaching of Jesus placed Him at the centre of God’s purposes and demanded obedience to Him. The apostles preached Jesus crucified and risen as Lord – the one to whom all authority had been given. Inclusion in God’s regeneration of all things depends on our response to this man who amazed His first hearers and continues to amaze those who listen to Him today.