The Authority to Call: A Lesson from the Baseball Field
In the world of baseball, Bill Klem stood out as a legendary figure. Known as “the Old Arbitrator,” he was the father of baseball umpires: colorful, judicious, and dignified. For 37 years, he umpired with passion, including 18 World Series, even going so far as to declare, “To me, baseball is not a game, but a religion.” Klem’s keen eye for calling balls and strikes and his innovation of using arm signals behind home plate made him an iconic figure in the sport.
On one occasion, as he crouched and readied behind the plate, the pitcher threw the ball, the batter didn’t swing, and, for just an instant, Bill said nothing. The batter turned and snorted, “Okay, so what was it, a ball or a strike?” To which Bill responded, “Sonny, it ain’t nothing ’till I call it.”(1)
This story about Bill Klem resonates with those who know the game of baseball, but it goes beyond just being a sports tale. It’s something that can relate to our spiritual journey with Christ. Just like how an umpire’s call can define a baseball game, Jesus has authority over God’s word and how we are called to live. It isn’t simply about obeying rules; it’s about making a heartfelt choice. It’s like recognizing the deep roots of an old tree, knowing that Christ’s way is solid and true. This path doesn’t become “real” until we respond to His call with conviction, recognizing His defining authority in our lives.
Now, let’s talk about the Sermon on the Mount, found in the book of Matthew, ending with verses 7:28-29. These are not just words to wrap up a sermon; they’re a mighty declaration about who Christ is and what He stands for. What makes these teachings so special and life-changing? It’s more than the words themselves. It’s a challenge that gets to the heart of how we live, urging us towards a fresh start, guided by Christ’s love, wisdom, and authority(2). Just like the dependable cycles of planting and harvest in our lands, this way of life is rooted in the essence of what it means to live in the Kingdom of Christ.
The Uniqueness of Christ’s Authority
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.” (Matthew 7:28-29, NLT)
The folks weren’t just impressed by what Jesus taught, but how He taught. Unlike the scholars and religious leaders of His day, Jesus spoke with a unique and genuine authority. He wasn’t leaning on old traditions or just repeating what others had said before. His words were fresh and filled with understanding, clarity, and a loving heart. In His Sermon, He talked about loving those who wrong you and turning the other cheek—ideas that were as surprising then as finding a hidden meadow in the woods. He spoke as one having the highest authority(3), and what the people heard was so true, it left them completely astonished(4).
How does that idea settle with you personally, that Christ’s teachings are as unique and sound? Can you recall moments when you’ve felt a connection to His words, like hearing a familiar tune or seeing a well-worn path?
A Challenge to False Security: Jesus’s Message
One can understand why so many turned away from Christ’s message. It was a straight shot at the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the time, known for their rigid clinging to laws and traditions. These leaders often focused more on the do’s and don’ts rather than a real, heartfelt relationship with God. This was in sharp contrast to what Jesus was teaching. His message was as foreign to them as a distant horizon. But even more, the truth is that it went right to where they lived. What was their anchor? It’s something we might find familiar: it’s often simpler to stick to the rules than to shift how we feel inside. A to-do list can feel like a comforting measure of being in the right. If they really listened to this message, it’d push them to put faith in God rather than just in themselves. It shook the very ground they stood on. But their footing was in the ease of following rules, not in real change. They found solace in their own rightness, but Christ was asking them to trust in God instead of just themselves(5).
Overlooking Jesus in Our Daily Lives
The message of Christ’s confrontation with false security is not just something from the history books – it’s a wake-up call for today, too. More times than we might like to admit, we lose sight of Christ in our lives. We get caught up in what we want, what we’re aiming for, and the things we value in this here world(4). Even a bunch of folks who heard Jesus that day liked what they heard but didn’t quite get what He was really saying(4). They put stock in the things they could hold or control, rather than in a true and deep relationship with Christ, holding tight to a make-believe sense of control and trust in themselves(5).
Kingdom Living: A Revolutionized Life
Kingdom Living is about more than adhering to religious rules. It represents a refreshing approach to life, where the emphasis shifts from self-reliance to trusting in something greater. They were weighed down with guilt because they couldn’t keep up with the Pharisees’ exacting demands. If this weren’t so, Christ wouldn’t have declared in Matthew 11:29–30, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In these words, Jesus alludes to a different burden, one lighter than the alternative. This alternative is the rigid Jewish teachings of the time, which caused unnecessary stress. Christ offers a better way. What makes it better? By embracing the kingdom attitudes Christ outlines in his Sermon on the Mount, we realize that trust doesn’t have to be placed in ourselves or any specific rules to maintain our righteousness before God. A relationship can take root instead. Many followers of Christ have built their beliefs on misunderstandings and burdensome expectations, feeling that they must perform for Christ rather than rest in His grace and righteousness. But the message of Christ aims to liberate us. It invites us into a relationship with Him, allowing His teachings to shape our lives(5). Kingdom Living is about experiencing a true life free from the constraints and guilt of empty religious demands, resting in the grace and righteousness of Christ.
In the movie Dr. Strange, the main character’s hands become severely impaired due to an accident. Dr. Strange is an exceptionally prideful man. Despite all his efforts to restore his hands, he fails until he travels to a far-off place and discovers a mystical world. Initially, he rejects this new reality because it contradicts everything he knows. Ultimately, though, he realizes that to heal, he must let go of his preconceived notions and open himself to this new understanding. While we as Christians don’t endorse the concept of magic, the parallel between Dr. Strange’s transformation and our spiritual journey with Christ is compelling. The teachings of Jesus challenge our conventional beliefs about spirituality. We have the choice to dismiss His words, convincing ourselves that we know better, or we can set aside our prior beliefs about spirituality, allowing the truth of Christ to transform us and bring us into a more complete relationship with Him. Kingdom Living requires us to forget everything we think we know about spirituality and allow Christ’s truth to change us and make us whole(3). What does Kingdom Living mean to you personally? How do you feel about the idea that a relationship with Christ can free you from guilt and religious demands?
Practical Steps to Kingdom Living
- Surrender Control: Recognize that Christ’s way is better. Give Him control and let His message set you free(6).
In what areas of your life might you be relying solely on yourself rather than trusting in God? How can you surrender more control to Him?’
- Seek His Will: Spend time in prayer and the Word, seeking to understand God’s will for your life. This might include joining a Bible study group, setting aside regular quiet time for reflection, or seeking guidance from a spiritual mentor(8).
What practical steps can you take to deepen your understanding of God’s will? How might joining a community or seeking spiritual mentorship help you in this pursuit?
- Live in Obedience: Put Christ’s teachings into practice, such as loving your neighbor or forgiving others(9).
What are some specific teachings of Christ that you can apply in your daily life? How can you make a conscious effort to live in obedience to these teachings?
- Share His Love: Reflect Christ’s love and be a beacon in the world. Guide others toward the Kingdom(10).
How can you reflect Christ’s love in your interactions with others? In what ways can you be a light in the world and show others the way to the Kingdom?
Surrendering Control – Imagine a child who declares with enthusiasm that he’ll build a ladder to reach the moon. His effort might outshine his friend’s, but neither ladder will ever touch the moon’s surface. Sometimes, our attempts to connect with God are like those ladders: sincere but utterly inadequate. They become barriers of pride and misunderstanding that obstruct a genuine relationship with Jesus. When we begin to grasp God’s grandeur, majesty, and might, the idea of building a ladder to Him seems foolish. I’m never going to draw nearer to God through my efforts alone—not for salvation, sanctification, security, stability, or acceptance. These ladders are either misguided assurances that inflate our sense of self or relentless reminders of our shortcomings. Allow Christ and His message to liberate you from these constraints today.
Embracing the Call to Kingdom Living
Matthew 7:28-29 isn’t just the closing words of a sermon; it’s a summons to a transformed life, an invitation to stop merely hearing Christ and begin living in His Kingdom. It’s a call to relinquish control, to trust, and to obey.
This exploration has delved into Christ’s unique authority, the risk of overlooking Him, the allure of Kingdom Living, and real-world ways to adopt this way of life. Let’s not be counted among those who simply admire Christ but neglect to practice His teachings. Let us embrace the Kingdom life, standing resolute in faith, and finding our true selves in Christ, akin to the strong trees that mark our countryside.
Pause for a moment to ponder how Christ’s teachings might mold our lives in our unique community. Perhaps share those thoughts with a neighbor or loved one. Let’s be like the enduring trees in our landscape, standing tall in faith and living the Kingdom life.
- David Sturt, Great Work (McGraw Hill, 2013), page 139
- TheBibleSays.com, “Matthew 7:28-29 meaning”
- On The Foothills, “Matthew 7:28 – A Little Sentence with a Big Meaning”
- Bible.org, “The Method of the Master (Matthew 7:28-29; John 7:44-46); Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains [New York: United Bible Societies, 1996], 311–12”
- Ibid.; Cary Schmidt, Real Christianity [Lancaster, CA: Striving Together Publications, 2017], 72
- John Piper, “How to Seek the Holy Spirit”
- Timothy Keller, “The Freedom of Obedience”
- Francis Chan, “Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God”
- Schmidt, Cary. Real Christianity. Lancaster, CA: Striving Together Publications, 2017.