After the Lord’s Sermon in chapters 5 through 7 of Matthew’s gospel, the writer concludes: "When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." (Matthew 7:28-29)
No one knows what became of the crowd who listened to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. We do know, however, it’s never enough to simply be “astonished” by a sermon. It’s never enough to be astonished by His presence – even in the Eucharist. What matters is a changed life, a “doing” His commandments instead of just “hearing.” Isn’t that what Jesus said to his audience a few verses earlier in that last chapter?
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
I remember a time I wasn’t at all astonished by Christ’s teaching. I rejected it. In those days I prided myself on being an atheist, always ready to challenge Christians with unanswerable questions like, “Can you prove God exists?” or “Why does He permit cancer? Or war? Why do drunk drivers kill entire families?”
But when I was stopped at a traffic light in 1970, the thought caught me by surprise: "What if there is a God?"
Intrigued by the thought – but only for a moment – I let myself follow the question to its logical conclusion. Though I knew nothing about God’s word, intuitively I knew if He existed, He didn’t at all approved of my lifestyle of cavalier sexual encounters, drug abuse, drunkenness, thefts, and general rebellion against any of God’s laws I thought inconvenient.
I would have to change.
But I didn’t want to change. I liked living as I did. So, when the light turned green, I pushed the question from my mind.
I am grateful for God’s mercy because He did not ignore me nearly fifty years ago at that traffic light when I ignored Him. And I must also be quick to say His mercy is not limited to me. It extends to everyone – even to you reading this. Regardless of the times you may have disobeyed Him, or even rejected and denied Him, His absolute and utter forgiveness remains only a prayer away – a prayer such as this:
"Lord Jesus, your mercy should do more than astonish me. Please, change me. Please forgive the many times I’ve turned from you. I know I am not worthy to come to you, yet only say the word, and I shall be healed – and I shall follow you the rest of my life."