It was just starting to get dark on Tuesday as I was headed home from work when I noticed flashing lights in my rearview mirror. I pulled over to the side of the road so they could pass and then had that sinking feeling when I realized that they weren’t passing. Sure enough, they pulled right behind me. I immediately knew why I was being pulled over. You probably think that I was speeding, but no, I knew that I had a burnt out headlight. Matter of fact, I had the new bulb in a Wal-Mart bag right beside me, but I hadn’t installed it yet (that was obviously a mistake).
That incident and the fact that the commandment I was scheduled to teach my confirmation students on Wednesday was “You shall honor your father and mother,” leads me to believe that this is “authority” week number two. Last week I talked about Ben and the authority that he has at his work. You can see that post here: https://gregarnett.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/the-steinway/ This week I want to delve a little deeper into the topic of authority.
Believe me, when I was pulled over I was very much, “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” I understand Romans 13, respect authority, and know that when you rebel against authority it doesn’t go well for you. But why did the police officer have that authority in the first place? It actually starts with Jesus.
Jesus states in Matthew 28:18 that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Now that’s a bold claim! I could claim the same thing, but I couldn’t back up that claim. Can Jesus back up his claim? Let’s go to Matthew nine to find a story where this was questioned:
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—”Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8 ESV)
Jesus proved his authority not just in this passage, but many others as well. Jesus, through his miracles, proves that he has authority over physical elements (e.g. turning water into wine, calming the sea, the miraculous catch of fish), sickness (e.g. giving the blindsight or hearing to the deaf, healing paralytics, healing the woman who had the bleeding which the physicians couldn’t heal), the demonic (e.g. casting the demons into the pigs, preventing demons from speaking about him, resisting the devil’s temptations), and death (e.g. raising Jairus’ daughter, raising the widow of Nain’s son, raising Lazarus on the fourth day, and his own resurrection).
After Jesus’ claim to have all authority in Matthew 28:18, he goes on to then give some of that authority to his believers. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) We call it the great commission, and it is the Christian church’s “marching orders.” Literally, the authority for the church to even be the church comes from Jesus and the authority he gave for us to be the church. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, he had given the disciples authority “over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” (Matthew 10:1)
Besides the church having authority, Paul makes application of “all authority” flowing down to government in Romans 13. Parents are given authority in Exodus 20:12 and elsewhere. Paul and Peter point out that husbands are given spiritual authority (e.g. Ephesians 5:22, 1 Peter 3:1). The list of those who are given authority could go on for quite a while.
If I had fought the officer who pulled me over for having a burnt out headlight it wouldn’t have gone well for me. As it was, I was very polite and cooperative and left with only a verbal warning. (Believe me, I changed that headlight as soon as I got home) Jude gives an even stronger warning than fear of a ticket:
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. (Jude 1:5-8, italic mine)
Yet, if we obey authority we find there is a promise attached to it and a blessing. Indeed, the fourth commandment is the only commandment with a promise attached to it! God says, “that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) And overall the commandments God says that he will show “steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6) It might not seem fun when you’re pulled over on the side of the road, but in the end, that officer was keeping me and other drivers on the road safe. Authority has been granted for our own good.