Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Little Look at Ultimate Authority

Today our Pastor Ken spoke about how Jesus' authority is illustrated in the Gospel of Mark. We had discussed His authority in our study on Thursday night as well, and one thing in that discussion became very clear to me: While humanity in general uses authority to exalt self by pressing others down, Jesus in every case uses His authority to lift humanity up. He speaks with authority, clarifying and uplifting our understanding of His Word. He uses His authority to evict demons and diseases. He uses His authority to quell the raging storms and bring peace to our troubled souls. Preaching from Mark Chapter 1, Pastor emphasized how different Jesus' authority is from that of everyday man. And between what Pastor taught, what we discussed on Thursday, and what I've been observing in my reading, I found a number of aspects of difference between Jesus' authority and that of man.
One of the first things people found striking about Jesus was how He spoke, taught, preached with authority. I see a strong human parallel in my own experience of listening to pastors preach. I have heard a pastor who never preached his own sermons but always used another man's material, and I saw the many ways in which his preaching contrasts with one who has studied the Scriptures himself and written his own sermon. Their preaching is as different as night and day; it only took about 5 minutes to see the difference. When a pastor preached someone else's material, he didn't know it well, because he didn't put it together. He couldn't readily editorialize because it wasn't his. He consistently stood at the podium, read the sermon; he rarely dared move away for fear of becoming hopelessly lost; he mispronounced authors' names whose writings were quoted and vocabulary and Greek words that he didn't know well. But when the pastor who writes his own sermon presents it, he walks around the room, relating without the notes in front of him, making eye contact with the grandmas in the front row, adding things in on the spur of the moment, and not mangling the words within it. He speaks his sermon with as much authority as any pastor might do, because he wrote it. He knows the nuances of what he is saying because he'd researched it, prayed about it, written it himself with the Holy Spirit's help. Any books he quotes, he knows well enough to pronounce the author's name.
So it is, infinitely more so, with Jesus' presentation of the Scripture, with His ultimate authority in speaking and teaching and preaching. He knows the Old Testament and hasn't gotten tangled up in other men's writings, in the traditions, rules, burdens and manipulations that men had added to it. Jesus knows the will of His Father; because of this and His authorship, He knows the intent of every part of the Word. He knows where man's understanding falls short, where he has been blinded by hardness of heart. Jesus has the inside track, so to speak, in His presentation of God's Word--He knows the Father, He knows the Scriptures, and He knows what is in the heart of a man. The Pharisees, the scribes, and the Sadducees were more concerned with man's obedience to the traditions of men and the letter of the law than the spirit of the law and how it reflected God's will for humanity.
Pastor pointed out that any mere man's authority is derived, that is, it is not ultimate, not infinite, but handed down in measure by God the Father. But Jesus has ultimate authority over man and over spirits, because He is an exact representation of God the Father (Heb. 1:3). Jesus' authority is not diminished; it is infinite and perfect. Man's authority is finite and corrupted because man is finite and because he is sinful; Jesus' authority is uncorrupted and pure.
Jesus' method of using His authority was as the suffering Servant (Isa 53), serving God the Father in lovingkindness for the humanity that He knew would reject and kill Him. He came not to be served, but to serve (Mk 10:45) and to give His life a ransom for many. He consistently did the will of His Father even to sacrificial death (Phil 2:8). How different this is from the authority that the typical human authority uses! Man tends to use his authority to have others serve his needs, to make him look good, to help him please those in authority over him, to increase his own opportunities in the world. Not only that, but Jesus uses His authority over sin and death (Rom 8:2) such that He has power not only to have resurrected Himself, but to resurrect those who trust in Him to eternal life with Him in heaven.(Rom 8:11)
Jesus' motive, His purpose, in using His authority was pure love, a desire to do His Father's will. He has a perfect relationship with His perfect Father, which enabled Him to make what was no doubt a more horrific sacrifice than we can fathom. We will never on this earth fully comprehend just how great a loving sacrifice He gave in coming down from heaven to earth to suffer for us, doing God's will perfectly throughout.
Jesus' realm of authority is infinite and eternal. He will reign throughout eternity. His reign is over all of creation, even the stars in heaven; over all the universe; He created it! (Gen 1:1) He sustains it (Heb 1:3). It was created through Him and for Him (Col 1:16). The very highest mere human authority, limited by time and space and God's will, is miniscule in comparison to the authority of Jesus Christ.
Jesus' exercise of His authority is with infinite power and love, righteousness, sincerity and truth. Nothing is beyond His ability: Creating the heavens and the earth from nothing; making water into wine; chasing out demons and fevers and leprosy; calming seas; stopping the sun; knowing man's innermost thoughts; feeding thousands of people abundantly with insufficient food. Beyond that, He has the authority to redeem us out of our sin, having taken the punishment upon Himself in our stead. That, I would expect, is the one most amazing and benevolent use of His authority, for which we should remain most aware and thankful. Man's exercise of authority, besides being limited in scope, has the capacity to be self-serving, deceitful, pretentious, and hypocritical, and doesn't have the capacity for anything miraculous or redemptive apart from God's help.
And so what do we do, realizing that huge disparity? We know that Jesus has ultimate authority and doesn't abuse us with it. How does He use it on our behalf? Jesus loves us such that He came from heaven to earth and willingly gave His own life to lift us out of our misery and ignorance and sin. How can we respond to such authority? We should have no reason to withhold submission to such authority; we should embrace it! Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11)'s such a small response for so great a loving kindness!

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