The Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 29, 2006
Authority is a controversial topic. We argue about it all the time. My mother tells the story about one of my nephews who was misbehaving. She told him to stop what he was doing. He informed her that she wasnít his boss. She said that she was and he could go ask his mother. So he did. My sister informed her little boy that yes, Grandma was his boss. Mom loves to tell us about the expression on his face when he heard the news. What a bummer! Even Grandma is my boss.
When we think
of authority we usually think of it in terms of the law.
The law says you must do this so you do it.
The law says you must not do that so you donít do it.
You canít get away from the law.
Wherever you go, you are confronted with the authority of the law:
at home, at school, at work, and, of course, driving around town in a car
with flashers on the top. There
are many different kinds of authority and levels of authority and
penalties imposed if you defy the authority.
We apply authority
and we submit to authority. The
centurion understood that. You
give orders and you follow orders or the job doesnít get done.
The centurion was no theologian.
He wasnít even a Jew. In
fact, he wouldnít have been accepted by the Jews because his occupation
was quite offensive to them. No
synagogue of his day would have received him.
No community of devout Bible-believing children of Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob would have recognized him.
He was a Gentile, an outsider, a man without God.
He had nothing to claim by which he could make himself a part of
Godís people. He was
uncircumcised, unlearned, and unclean.
By what right could he appeal to Jesus for help?
His servant was wracked with painful paralysis. Nobody but Jesus could help. Why did the centurion appeal to Jesus to help? He went to Jesus because Jesus had authority. He had all authority in heaven and on earth. He had the authority of His word.
To what does
the centurion appeal in his plea for Jesusí help?
He certainly doesnít appeal to his own worthiness.
He says, ďLord, I am not worthy that You should come under my
roof.Ē He appeals to Jesus as Lord and he appeals to his servantís
need. Jesus is merciful.
He appeals to His mercy.
And so do we. Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us. The Kyrie is at the beginning of the church service because it is only on account of the mercy we have in Christ that we can ask God for anything at all. It is only on account of Christís mercy that we can bear to listen to God speak to us. What kind of authority would we be under were it not for the mercy God has revealed to us in Christ?
Jesus healed a painful paralysis because He could do it and because He wanted to do it. How did He do so? He did so by means of His word. What is truly remarkable about this particular episode is the faith of this Gentile. Not only does he confess Jesus as Lord, but he confesses that Jesus exercises His authority through His word. This is the only authority the church has.
But the sons of
the kingdom didnít see this. They
belonged to the church outwardly. But
they didnít submit to the authority of Jesusí word.
They would be excluded from the kingdom and cast into outer
darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Only those who submit to the authority of Godís word will receive
Ah, but what does that mean? Thatís a good Lutheran question, isnít it? What does it mean to submit to the authority of Godís word? When the centurion said to Jesus, ďBut only speak a word, and my servant will be healed,Ē to what kind of authority was he appealing? Did Jesus compel the paralytic to heal himself? Or perhaps He did a bit of surgery and then sent him to rehab for a week or two? No, Jesus spoke and it was. He said it and it became so. It became so because He said it. From the moment He said it, it was so.
What kind of
authority is this? Consider what Jesus said to the paralytic he met as recorded
in the following chapter of St. Matthewís Gospel.
He went up to him and said, ďSon, be of good cheer, your sins are
forgiven.Ē That made it so.
Jesus had the authority to say it and make it so.
He proved this by saying, ďArise, take up your bed, and go to
your house.Ē What happened then? The
man rose, took up his bed, and went to his house. Jesus had authority to forgive sins.
Thatís at the very heart of divine authority. Three things go together and cannot be separated: divine authority, the divine word, and the forgiveness of sins. What did Jesus say to the apostles right before sending them out to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost? He laid claim to all authority in heaven and on earth.
The divine authority to which we Christians submit is the authority of the One who bore our sins. After submitting Himself to the authority of Godís law and after bearing in His divine body the punishment for sins that the law demanded, He gave to His church the authority to forgive sins in His name. Oh yes, the word of Godís law has authority. But the law never brought life or health or forgiveness. When God says do, His children balk, object, argue, and when they set out to do they stumble and they fall. Whoís going to question the authority of Godís law? Right is right and wrong is wrong. But when God says it we donít do it. The law stands and its authority to condemn stands but we cannot be freed from the paralysis of our sins by means of commands to do what we cannot do.
children who have refused to submit to the authority of Godís law we are
afraid. We are afraid of God,
the judgment of others, our pride, our future, and just about anything
else that reminds us of our mortality.
The authority to condemn is the authority with which our
consciences are familiar.
But there is another
authority in our life. There
is another authority to which we willingly submit.
It is the authority of the gospel.
It tells us that as deeply as we have violated the authority of
Godís law, so deeply are we forgiven of all our sins.
The One who bore our sins is doing the talking.
Donít forget that. Jesus
says to us, ďGo your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done
for you.Ē And it is so.
To be under the authority of Jesusí word means that we live every day of our lives with the confidence that no power in heaven or on earth can condemn us. To be under the authority of Jesusí word means that we reject any other authority that lays claim to any spiritual, religious, or churchly pedigree. When it comes to matters of life, we Christians submit to all sorts of authority, some of it quite unpleasant. Thatís what love does. Follow the rules. Get along. Donít make waves. To live at peace with others requires that we subordinate our will to the will of the law, because the law is there to ensure an ordered liberty in matters pertaining to this life.
But then there
is the authority over our doctrine and our faith.
To whose authority must we submit?
To Christís and to His alone.
When it comes to what we teach and what we confess and what we
believe, we submit to the authority of Godís word because the very heart
of that word is the gospel that makes us free.
We can permit no church, no pastor, no synod, no group of
Christians, no pope, no bishop, nobody in all this world to require us to
submit to any doctrine that is not clearly taught in Godís written word,
the Holy Scriptures. And when
we look to the Word of God to read it, when we listen to the Word of God
to hear it, we look for Jesus, we listen for Jesus, the Jesus who
demonstrated the authority of His word to set sinners free from their
We eat and we drink
at the altar where Christís body and blood are put into our mouths as a
divine pledge of the forgiveness of all our sins.
There is authority. There
is the word. There is divine healing of body and soul.
can be annoying. The
authority of the trooper or the tax man can be expensive.
We might tend to run away from authority or at least to embrace it
only reluctantly. But
Christís authority is sweet and soothing.
It is the authority won by His blood.
It is the authority to forgive sins.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus