Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Man's authority / God's authority

Sermon for Epiphany 4B, preached on Sunday, January 28, 2018, by the Rev Daniel M. Ulrich.
 “Authority” is a long four letter word.  We don’t like authority, that is, unless we have it.  We don’t like the idea of others being able to tell us what we can and can’t do.  This goes against the very core of our American sense freedom.  We’ve turned authority into a bad thing, but it’s not, at least not in and of itself.
We don’t like authority because those who have it often abuse it.  They use it to lord over us.  We even use to control others, to make them do what we want…but not Jesus.  He doesn’t use His authority to keep us down; He uses it to raise us up to everlasting life.  Jesus’ authority is the authority for salvation. 
            Christ’s authority isn’t like man’s.  Man’s authority comes from others.  For example, police officers have the authority, the power, and the right to arrest criminals because they’ve been given this authority by the government.  It’s the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens and to punish evil.  If you’re not a police officer you have no right to investigate crimes or arrest criminals.  If you detain someone, that’s called kidnapping, but police officers have this authority. 
The authority of the government also comes from outside of itself.  It comes from God.  St. Paul explains this in Romans 13.    Ultimately all authority comes from God.  He gives it.  He gives it to the government for the purpose of protecting and caring for people.  He gives it to parents for the purpose of raising up and caring for children.  All authority comes from God for the good purpose of serving others.  Authority is good when used according to this purpose, but we sinners don’t always do this. 
We don’t use the authority God’s given us for the benefit of those around us.  Instead we see it as power to satisfy our wants, to be in control, to have others listen to us, to make them do what we tell them to do.  We like it when others serve us. 
We also don’t honor those with authority as God planned it either.  We see this very clearly in God’s 4th Commandment: Honor your father and mother.  Of course all of us know of times when we haven’t done this, both as children and adults.  As children we’ve disobeyed, talked backed, ignored house rules.  As adults, we’ve thought poorly of our parents, calling them crazy, thinking they don’t know what they’re talking about. 
Of course this commandment doesn’t just apply to our moms and dads.  Luther explains this is extended to all in authority.  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.  How often do we not do this?  We speak ill of those in authority.  We call them names and degrade them.  This isn’t the proper respect God calls us to show to them, respect that can be given even if we disagree with them.
An excellent example of God’s design and plan for authority in Moses.  God called Moses to lead His people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  Moses was to serve the people and they were to follow and listen to Moses because he was God’s man and prophet.  God gave Moses authority, not to abuse Israel, but to serve them.  The people of Israel needed Moses to be their mediator between God and them because they were sinners and they couldn’t stand before the mighty voice of God and the great fire of His presence. 
Near the end of Moses’ life God promised to raise up for Israel a prophet like him.  “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers.  And I will put my words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him” (Dt 18:18).  This promised prophet would serve Israel with authority, He’d speak only the words of God.  Jesus fulfills this promise.  Christ as all authority because of who He is, the very Son of God. 
During Epiphany we see Jesus’ identity revealed.  We see Him as the King worshiped by the Magi.  At His baptism, the Father’s voice announced that Jesus is His beloved Son.  Today, we see His authority, speaking the very words of God.  The people in the synagogue were astonished as Jesus taught because they saw His unique authority.  It wasn’t like when the scribes taught.  They always said, “Thus says the LORD.”  Their authority came from God, from His Word, but Jesus’ authority came from Himself, for He is God, the very Word of God Incarnate. 
The evangelist John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (Jn 1:1-3).  Jesus, the very Son of God, the Word Incarnate, the Word through whom all things were made, fulfills the promise of the prophet like Moses.  He leads God’s people.  He is God’s Man among the people, to serve them.  He is their mediator.  And His authority is greater than Moses’, for He has authority over all things.  He even has authority over life and death.
            Jesus displayed this authority when He healed the man with an unclean spirit.  This spirit recognized who Jesus was.  He cried out,”What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?” (Mk 1:24).  Yes!  Yes He did!  Christ came to overcome the unclean spirits, to overcome Satan, sin, and death.  That’s the purpose of Jesus’ authority, to save God’s people, to save you from sin and death, to make you clean and give you life. 
            Jesus’ authority is in service to you.  The One who has authority over all creation, over life and death, has come to serve you, to give you life.  Jesus said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (Jn 10: 17-18).  Christ willing laid down His life on the cross for you.  He shed His blood so that it might wash over you and cleanse you from you sin; so that you might be pure and holy.  Christ also took His life up again.  Rising from the dead, walking out of the tomb, Jesus overcame death and He gives you life.  No longer is death then end.  No longer does death have authority and power of you.  In Christ you have everlasting life and salvation. 
Our Lord is the Holy One of God and He has all authority.  This authority is perfectly good, used only in service to you.  Jesus’ authority is the authority for salvation, for your salvation.  In His name...Amen. 

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Excellent and insightful exposition on the theme of 'authority" and the way God wants us to view it. In many respects, our own country was nurtured as a people suspicious and skeptical of authority, and as "rebels," we extended this frame of mind to our churches as well. We favor the "independent" congregation idea, even within denominations, and we reserve the right to confront, expose, purge, and change the authorities which oversee us. I agree with your point about respecting authority, even when we disagree. However, in some verses of Scripture, we hear Our Lord commanding us to purge false teachers and wicked rulers, particularly ones who reflect evil motives and ungodly aspirations contrary to the will of God.