I have read the passage a hundred times, in a dozen different
translations. It is not a passage frequently used as a sermon
topic—the use of authority is greatly frowned upon these days—but it
has its place when discussing the concept of great faith. I repeat
the story to you from the New American Standard Bible, with one word
When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the
people, He went to Capernaum. And a centurion's slave, who was
highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. When he heard
about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save
the life of his slave. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly
implored Him, saying, "He is worthy for You to grant this to him;
for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue."
Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from
the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, "Lord, do not
trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under
my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to
come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.
"For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me;
and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!'
and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." Now when
Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the
crowd that was following Him, "I say to you, not even in Israel have
I found such great faith." When those who had been sent returned to
the house, they found the slave in good health.
(Luke 7:1-10 NASB)
The New International leaves that word out; the King James
catches the point, and I hope you do too. It is not just that the
centurion is a man under authority; it is that he recognizes in
Jesus a man who is under authority too! He sees in Christ one who
can give orders, and can take them just as well. It is on that basis
that he is completely confident of Jesus; after all, if he were
given an order, it would be carried out. How much more would the
orders of this prophet from Nazareth.
No doubt his theology was a little hazy; it’s likely he thought
the man another one of the Old Testament prophets (which is, in
part, correct). But he knew one thing: this man was under the
authority of God. The miracles he had done showed that. Therefore,
say the word and all would be well. It was simply a matter of proper
understanding of authority—and Jesus confirms this as great faith.
Consider that: the proper understanding of the authority of
Christ is sufficient to grant one “great faith.” Why is it, then,
that we in the
church seem to ignore, or even deny, the authority of Christ? If
it is a key to great faith, it would seem worth exploring.
Let us begin by acknowledging the existence of the problem. The
church—by which I mean all believers who acknowledge that Jesus is
indeed the Christ—is obviously, visibly of weak faith. There are
individuals of great faith, but the church as a whole is of weak
faith. If we had to select, this would be the Laodicean church. In
spite of how obvious this is, it is a subject which seems taboo. We
will talk about our wonderful programs and missionary trips, but the
rock solid faith of the church of just a hundred years ago is
clearly gone. If asked to show our faith, we would show Christ our
date books—and he would look at how worn are our knees.
Indeed, nothing is so common in reading 19th century Christian
authors as the sense that they moved in an era of divine providence.
The genuinely miraculous was rare, but they regularly relied upon
God’s providence—successfully. Their stories now gather dust; our
stories relate more to how we feel about what God has done. Again,
there are outstanding exceptions; but they are just that—exceptions.
How does this relate to the concept of authority, and
particularly the authority of Christ? Consider the following:
· As a culture, we have an abiding distrust of authority.
Politicians are assumed to be lying and concealing. Science is
warped for the purposes of making a buck—or worse. Religious figures
are in constant scandal. Is it any wonder then that we distrust
authority in general?
· We are now told that we must each find our own way in the
matter of right and wrong. This idea, by its very nature, denies the
possibility of moral authority outside our own heads.
· You may think this is just a secular issue. Go back and read
(for example) Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. Study it
diligently; is there any suggestion of the authority of the church?
Certainly not. Yet the evangelical church in particular is greatly
enamored with it. (I am not suggesting that Rick is wrong; I’m
suggesting that he understands his readers very well. Whoever’s
fault that might be, it is not Rick Warren’s.)
If we are to restore the authority of Christ, and its potential
as a source of great faith, we must begin by understanding the true
nature of authority. Permit me to do so by way of example.
Consider that specimen of fine, masculine authority, the fireman.
Have you noticed how much authority we give to those men in the red
trucks? They have but to turn on their sirens and lights and we are
obliged to move over to the side of the road as quickly as possible.
Do we object? No, we’re pleased. The next heart attack victim might
be you. Even though they have this extraordinary authority over us,
we accept it and even cooperate with it.
From this we may extract some general principles.
· All legitimate authority descends from Christ. The fireman is
an agent of the government. Paul explicitly tells us to be obedient
to such, as being divinely blessed. Jesus himself tells us to render
unto Caesar. Sometimes the trail is twisted, but if the authority
can’t be traced back to Christ, it is not righteous.
· Such authority exists for the benefit of those in submission to
it. We move over for the fireman; he puts out fires. We give
firearms to the policeman; he is to catch crooks. Great authority is
given—but always for purposes which benefit those in submission.
· Ultimately, such authority rests upon our voluntary submission.
If we did not submit, the authority could not prevail. (If you think
not, try going 65 mph in the fast lane some Saturday). The fireman
has neither time nor numbers to force us.
· Such authority is properly exercised in the Christian concept
of servant leadership. It is no accident that our forefathers coined
the phrase “public servant.” They understood that these men were not
to lord it over us, but see to the business for which they were
appointed or elected. (This is almost the definition of the
difference between public servant and bureaucrat.)
· The proper response of the Christian is submission to proper
authority. Pull over for the fire truck. First, we are taught to
honor him to whom honor is due. Indeed, the Christian goes beyond
this; we are to pray for those in authority over us. It is higher
than that; we are to submit to them so as to make their task a joy
(see Hebrews 13:17).
· The Christian recognizes that punishment is due to those who
will not render proper obedience to authority. This is true in
matters civil and criminal; it is all the more true in matters
May we then apply these same principles to the relationship
between Christ and His church?
The Authority of Christ
It should be obvious that all authority in heaven and earth is
given to Christ. A Christian who cannot acknowledge that has denied
having a lord. And without lord, there is no savior. Indeed, the
church might be said to be defined by his authority. It consists of
all those people of all places and all times who submit to the
authority of Christ.
Is this for our benefit? It is indeed, and greatly so. For in the
church we find salvation; we find comfort; we find eternal life; we
find guidance; we find all those things most necessary for the
spiritual animal. All this depends upon the authority of Christ.
Is this a voluntary relationship? Certainly. You joined
voluntarily; you can leave any time. The fact that you don’t must
What is our duty to the authority over us? Obedience, first, and
then a cheerful cooperation. More than that, we are to make those
who are set in authority by the church to find their task a joy. It
is not grudging consent but joyful participation.
Is there punishment for those who do not? Hell is not a
particularly popular sermon topic these days, but you’ll find the
Bible has not lost any verses on the subject.
You have faith in the fire department. Will you have faith in
· Can he deliver on his promises? He always has.
· Will he deliver on his promises? How can God lie?
· Does he deliver on his promises? To those who believe.
By the authority given to Him by God the Father, Christ has
commissioned his church. Some day that authority will be plain to
all; the faith will become sight. In the meanwhile, consider what it
means to say that he has complete authority over the church—which