We will be studying the Gospel of Matthew in Sunday school this fall and this morning I finished a major section when I wrote notes for the end of chapter 7. In 7:28-29, Matthew adds a conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, the first of five such conclusions in his gospel. He writes,
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.
As I worked through the text, I noticed that the verb “amazed” (ἐκπλήσσω) used to describe the reaction of the crowd was not the more frequent verb that we find, θαυμάζω which is used 43 times in the New Testament. The verb ἐκπλήσσω is used only 13 times in the New Testament and has a range of usage that denotes “amaze,” “astound,” or “overwhelm.” That ἐκπλήσσω and θαυμάζω are used synonymously is clear. For instance, after Jesus taught in Matthew 22:22, the crowds were “amazed” (θαυμάζω) and 11 verses later, they were “amazed” again after his teaching (ἐκπλήσσω). The same pattern is found in Mark 6:2 and then 6:6 when the crowds are astonished with Jesus (ἐκπλήσσω) and then he is astonished with the crowds (θαυμάζω). The same is true in Mark 7:24 and 7:26 as well as Luke 4:22 and 32. My point is that both terms are used synonymously at times in the New Testament. What I did not expect to find, however, is that unlike θαυμάζω, ἐκπλήσσω is used in the New Testament only when describing a response to God himself or to the teaching of God’s word.
Of the 13 uses of ἐκπλήσσω, 12 are in the gospels. Of these 12 uses, 9 are a response to Jesus’ teaching similar to that found above (Matt 7:28; 13:54; 19:25; 22:33; Mark 1:22; 6:2; 10:26; 11:18; Luke 4:32). In addition, we find it used once in the response of Mary and Joseph to finding Jesus when he was teaching in the temple at age 12 (Luke 2:48). We also see another use in a response to Jesus’ working of a miracle (Mark 7:37), while the final use also is in response to another miracle when “they were all amazed at the greatness of God” (Luke 9:43). The only use outside of the gospels is in Acts 13:12 where after Paul’s teaching, the crowd is said to be “amazed at the teaching of the Lord.” Interesting in that even though Paul is teaching (13:9-11), they people attribute the source to be the Lord!
So what’s my point? Today, what believers often find so “amazing” in church are professional musicals, Broadway quality dramas, and American Idol-like solos. Churches can’t get enough of this stuff. How do we know this is true? Answer one question: when are people so “overwhelmed” or “amazed” in church that they break out into applause? Today in church, the best evidence we have when people are amazed or overwhelmed at a powerful declaration of God’s greatness during the preaching of his word is that lone, relatively quiet “Amen” that we preachers hear! We preachers will often look up to see who said it!
This sad fact of performance based ministry falls short of the model we find in the New Testament where what we observe are people who are truly astonished at two major things: God himself and his word.