When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.Matthew 7:28-29
In 2018, my bride Sara and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a trip to what has become one of our favorite places in the world – Italy. For this trip, that I secretly arranged for us and presented to her for Christmas 2017, I planned excursions around places and sites that carried personal significance to us both. I have personally always been fascinated with the history of the Roman Empire, as well as the religious significance of the Church in Rome. I’ve also held a passing interest in the Italian Renaissance of Florence, but nothing compared to Sara’s interest due to her passion for art and the masterpieces of Michelangelo Buonorotti.
As part of this trip, we got to explore the Flavian Ampitheatre (more commonly known as the Colosseum), the Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican Museums. We stood in awe of the magnificent paintings of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. I finally got to feast my eyes on one of my favorite paintings – Raphael’s School of Athens. But nothing in Rome compared to the tear-filled awe that we experienced when we stood before Michelangelo’s Pieta. The lifelike marble carving of the Virgin Mary cradling the crucified body of Jesus as only a mother could. The realism captured by Michelangelo as one viewed this sculpture was striking in that you felt as if you could reach out and touch the crucified body of our Lord. The taught muscle and soft skin harkened to the darkest day in the history of the world when mankind killed the Creator in the name of self-centered authoritarianism.
For me, the rest of St. Peter’s was dull by comparison, although still fascinating to witness. As our trip continued to Florence, we marveled at the magnificent architecture of San Giovanni’s Baptistry and the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, more commonly known as the Duomo. The site of the infamous Pazzi conspiracy that claimed the life of Giuliano de Medici and wounded his brother, Lorenzo “Il Magnifico” de Medici. As we explored the city, I stood in awe at the foot of a memorial to one of my own personal literary heroes, Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, outside of the Basilica de Santa Croce. This relatively simply basilica (compared to the Duomo), is the final resting place of such famous names as Galileo Galilei, Enrico Fermi, Rossini, Niccolo Machiavelli, Giorgio Vasari, and Michelangelo Buonorotti. We toured this magnificent basilica during our second trip to Florence in September 2019 and we stood in awe in the presence of these great artists and famed men.
While in Florence, we toured the Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s famed sculpture, the David, carved from a neglected piece of marble that was left for scrap for decades. We toured the Ufizzi Museum where we observed Sandro Botticelli’s masterful works Primavera and Birth of Venus, and we stood in amazement at the beauty captured by this artist of his muse, Simonetta Vespucci. From the Piazza Michelangelo, we had the opportunity to witness the beautiful, breathtaking landscape view of Florence as it nestled along the flowing River Arno. Imagine with me the awe that we experienced and then multiply that by the factor of standing in the presence of the authority of Almighty God has He taught the truths of the Kingdom from a simple hillside.
The crowds were amazed at His teaching, not because of eloquent words, but because He taught with authority, unlike the teaching of the scribes. He was more than just a breath of fresh air. Here was a man who was different, who was teaching the Scriptures in way that the foremost experts were incapable of teaching. He was teaching the Scriptures in a way that made God and His Kingdom accessible to them like nothing they have ever heard before.
The word for “amazed” in this verse is a Greek word “ekplesso”, which means “to strike out or expel by a blow.” IT carries with it the connotation of a sudden sense of astonishment as opposed to a sense of fanciful wonder. It’s as if the Spirit of God Himself struck the hearts of the hearers in a way to open their eyes and ears to see and hear Himself in a new way. The word is also the same root word for “explosion”. In essence, God’s word exploded in their hearts anew.
When we truly recognize the authority of God as expressed in His word, the inevitable result is an explosion of realization that Jesus is truly someone different. He’s greater than the greatest experts of Biblical exegesis that have ever lived. His wisdom is higher and His grace runs deeper than anything we have ever experienced, or ever will apart from a relationship with Him. But we must be willing to open our hearts to the majesty that is His word that is backed by His divine authority.
Just as Michelangelo and Botticelli were considered the foremost masters of sculpture and painting of their day, Jesus is the Master of the Kingdom that we will all one day stand in awe and amazement at the authority that He wields from the Word. There is no painting, sculpture, or architectural wonder of this world that can compare to the majestic wonder of standing in the presence of Jesus as He open our hearts and minds to the truth of His word.
Charles Gabriel is credited with having written over 7000 hymns and songs over the course of his lifetime. One of the most prolific hymnist of his day, Gabriel grew up as a farmboy in Iowa. He learned to play music on a simple reed organ in his home as a child. As a young adult, he began teaching, writing, composing, and editing song collections for some of the leading gospel song publishers of the day.
One day he read a poem by E.O. Excell, that was published in 1905. The words of the poem struck him to his core as Excell portrayed the joy of observing Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops like blood as he prayed on the night of His betrayal. Within moments, he penned a new hymn:
I stand amazed in the presence
of Jesus the Nazarene,
and wonder how he could love me,
a sinner, condemned unclean.
For me it was in the garden
he prayed, “Not my will, but thine,”
He had no tears for his own griefs,
but sweat-drops of blood for mine.
Refrain:The United Methodist Hymnal Number 371
How marvelous! How wonderful!
and my song shall ever be;
How marvelous! How wonderful!
is my Savior’s love to me!”
How marvelous! How wonderful it is to know that our God would step out of eternity to redeem His creation, because of His great love for us. How marvelous! How wonderful it is to know that Jesus would come to teach us how to live in His Kingdom. How marvelous! How wonderful it is to know that He stands on the authority of His word and can pierce even the hardest of hearts with His grace.