is an article of faith among Americans today that authority must be resisted
and rebelled against at all times; that it is inherently “not cool.” (“Good”
and “bad” no longer being in common use.) So it is perplexing at times to see
the emphasis placed on authority and its legitimacy in earlier times. Bear
with us, then, modern Americans, as we attempt to explain it.
Mat 21:23-27 NIV
Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests
and the elders of the people came to him. "By what authority are you doing
these things?" they asked. "And who gave you this authority?" (24) Jesus replied, "I will also ask you one
question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these
things. (25) John's baptism--where did it
come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?"
They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he
will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' (26)
But if we say, 'From men'--we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that
John was a prophet." (27) So they
answered Jesus, "We don't know."
Then he said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these
first glance the priests would seem to be on solid ground. The Old Testament
is clear that the priests have complete authority over the Temple; even the
king has no part in it.
It is interesting, therefore, that they do not present this argument to
Christ. We shall see more of this, but for the moment we must consider the
phenomenon of projection – where I attribute to you my own motives. To the
pure, all things are pure. To the cynical, the other guy must be just as
is the weak point in the priests’ argument. They can’t imagine that Jesus’
motives are pure. Therefore they accuse him (for example) of being in league
with the devil. Here they challenge his authority. Funny thing, isn’t it?
The moneychangers and those who sold animals there had very little difficulty
in recognizing his authority.
didn’t Christ answer directly?
a straightforward question, why not answer it directly?
who ask for the truth must be fit to receive it. The corrupt mind is
not. (Compare the use of parables in this).
who has hatred or contempt for the truth is not entitled to ask.
is Truth – and therefore must give the answer of an honest man to the
came to seek and save the lost – even the Pharisees.
of all – Christ’s objective is not winning the debate but obliging the
choice: for or against him. Those who are for, are saved.
John? It is simply this: John testified to who Jesus is. If you accept
John’s testimony, you accept these things:
is the Lamb of God.
As such, Christ has the responsibility of the Atonement; therefore he had
the authority that being the Atonement brings – “no one comes to the
Father except by me.”
is given the responsibility of winnowing out those who claim to be of God.
He therefore has the authority to do so.
is also John’s personal testimony. He is a prophet in the Old Testament
fashion – of the Law and the Prophets. If you accept John, you accept
that Jesus is much, much greater than John.
suppose you reject John? It seems that this is the simple solution. John is
just some nut case in the desert, right? How is this risky?
knew” that John was a prophet. Even the most amoral of regimes must have some
support from the general population, and this bunch was already on thin ice.
bases itself on an assumed righteousness – and thus fears being found out.
Most of all, these
are priests who have surrendered to the powers of this world. They fear Caesar
more than God; there is no way to fit John into their system.
they say, “we don’t know.” Sure they don’t.
must now consider the nature of authority. There are many schemes for
analyzing this; we shall use a relatively simple one.
has a moral dimension. Power may be rammed down your throat; but
authority has to have at least an air of legitimacy about it.
often depends upon expertise. Doctors write our prescriptions; elders
must be knowledgeable in the Scriptures.
authority is positional. You have a certain authority because you are a
policeman. It’s not something within you. Salute the uniform, not the
do we know real authority when we see it?
Sometimes by the
power it has. It is often a correct conclusion that an authority is legitimate
when we see the power it has.
uniform” – the office, if you will. John the Baptist looked like a
prophet (camel hair coat, eats locusts). He acted like one too. (Prophets
always out there condemning sin.) He was also beheaded for it, which seems to
be a common fate for prophets – and apostles.
we recognize it by delegation – someone we know is an authority tells us that
someone else is such, under his authority.
chain of authority
the kingdom of God, authority comes from responsibility. An elder has
authority because he has God-given responsibility. Note that responsibility is
a moral condition. We often describe responsibility with, “he’s supposed to do
that.” Legitimate authority’s actions are subject to the test: does this help
carry out the responsibilities given?
a moral aspect usually requires expert knowledge authority. Can the elder rule
over the church if he is ignorant of the Scriptures? Likewise, can a husband
rule over a family if he is ignorant of God’s commands on how to do so? We
have classes to train husbands and fathers for just this reason.
enables us to define tyranny: it is the abuse of authority.
abuse may be in the moral realm. A cop who pulls over the cute blonde and
offers her a choice of ticket or sex is abusing his authority, no matter
how pleasant the results.
often comes from exceeding one’s authority for personal pleasure or gain.
The fire truck should not go sirens blazing down to pick up the pizza.
it’s just plain stupidity or ignorance. There are men who believe that
there wives should be beaten to keep them in line – and that this is the
teaching of the Scripture. (It isn’t.)
Authority of Christ
Mat 21:28-32 NIV
"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first
and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' (29)
" 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. (30) "Then the father went to the other son and
said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. (31) "Which of the two did what his father
"The first," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the
prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. (32) For John came to you to show you the way of
righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the
prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe
may begin with a review of the authority of Christ, which stems from this
Mat 28:18 NIV
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to me.
me then to point out three areas of that authority in the Christian life:
is authority over all things – including governments. If we no longer
say, “In God We Trust,” we deny His authority over the government – and
make the government’s authority supreme.
is authority over the church. There is such a thing as heresy, and it
should be fought. His teaching should prevail in his church.
is authority over the Christian – you and me.
is one basic question: with you, is it “say, say” or “Do, do?” God must be
praised – but he also must be obeyed.
seems so obvious that it should not be necessary even to state it. But it was
necessary; indeed, it was necessary to point out further example:
Pharisees didn’t accept Christ – but the sinners did. The worst of the
sinners, those afflicted with sins socially unacceptable. Who’s saying
and who’s doing?
if the least and worst of sinners are doing this, why haven’t you taken
said this teaching is hard to understand today, and it is. We have been taught
that, as Americans who are “self-actualized,” “the measure of all things” and
“if it feels good, do it.” Authority is pictured as always corrupt, generally
ignorant and tyrannical. We condemn abuse based on the old idea of authority;
we excuse our rejection of it based on the new ideas. But as Christ said here,
can we take a look at the results and draw the logical conclusions?
as a whole – is Western Civilization rising, or flushing?
church – even the evangelical wing – is it weak or strong?
believer – are we more or less tangled in the sins of the world, the flesh
and the devil?
submit that our rejection of authority simply substitutes our own feelings and
ideas for true authority. Either Christ is Lord as well as Savior, or he is
neither. As Joshua put it,
Jos 24:15 NIV
But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves
this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond
the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as
for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."