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Authority in Action

Matthew 8:18-34

Lesson audio

It is a constant of atomic level physics that one cannot see the innards of the atom. Only by making it interact with other particles can the invisible be made known. How much more, then, can we learn of Christ as he interacts with those around Him! In this lesson we shall see the authority of Christ in actions, hoping to discover the authority of the Christ by what He does.

Unconditional Surrender

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea. Then a scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." Jesus *said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Another of the disciples said to Him, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But Jesus *said to him, "Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead."

(Mat 8:18-22 NASB)

One item which is often missed in the study of this passage is the sequence: Jesus gives orders for the boat to leave. This pressures two men who might have preferred to wait a bit for the kingdom of God. The decision then faces them: what will I give up for the kingdom of God? It is the “secret” of discipleship: I surrender all. It’s just that some of us would like to surrender all – later.

The scribes

Scribes had been a part of Jewish society for a long time. They were prominent as recorders – as Baruch wrote down what Jeremiah told him. At this time they are predominantly experts on the law of Moses. Many of them are also Pharisees; for the most part (there are exceptions) they tend to be legalistic. It’s an occupational hazard shared today by teachers. As an expert in the Law, it was common to be relatively rich.

Christ does not reject the scribes; He wants them to grow into those who know both the Law and the Christ. As He said it:

And Jesus said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old."

(Mat 13:52 NASB)

This particular scribe had a problem: he had a comfort zone. Note that Jesus makes no inquiries; he instead answers his thought. It is a sign of humility in Jesus that he does not wish to embarrass the man. This scribe probably saw in Jesus some sort of “super-rabbi” or a once-in-a-hundred-years prophet. As such, it would be natural for a scribe to want to follow this man. But this will not be in the man’s comfort zone.

The test of the disciple is this: Is it “I surrender all” or “let me get back to you on that.” The scribe evidently did not go with Jesus; we may conclude that he flunked the test.

The funeral

This disciple might have appealed to the scribe for this one. It is well established that it is the child’s duty to bury parents. We see this in Elisha being called by Elijah[1], where he goes back to say goodbye. But there were two exceptions to this command:

  • The High Priest was ordered not to make himself unclean by touching a dead body – even that of his father.[2]
  • The Nazirite was also to refrain from touching a dead body.[3]

Considering that our High Priest is Christ – and that He was known as a Nazarene – we might well conclude that this disciple’s vision of Christ is a bit limited. But that’s the point of this section: just who is this Jesus?

Humility of Christ

It’s not as if Christ were flaunting his authority; in fact, He makes His claims in the softest and gentlest ways. Consider:

  • He answers the scribe’s thought – not his bold assertion.
  • He leaves the decision to each disciple; there is no hint of force or pressure.
  • This, despite the power He will shortly display.

Evidently (we really don’t know) the scribe didn’t follow; the young man did. But taken either way, see what is proclaimed:

The authority of Christ over His followers is absolute and supreme.

A Teaching Trip

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing!" He *said to them, "Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?" Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, "What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?" [4]

(Mat 8:23-27 NASB)

He sleeps

The creator of all things, King of Kings, is asleep in the back of the boat. Christ actually slept! Consider the implications:

  • It is another sign that He is fully human. If He were God only, He’d need no sleep.
  • But it’s still His universe, and the storm will take a while to build up to the point of danger.
  • One last: their lack of faith is no hindrance – either to the storm or to Christ.

So then, just what is it that Christ is teaching them here?

First, he is teaching them how physical difficulties – aren’t. So often we take counsel of our fears; we should be taking counsel of Christ. Second, it is well to think humbly of yourself. The disciples figured that Jesus would help with the boat, taking directions from (say) Peter, who was a fisherman. He did what they asked; what’s the problem?

Please note this too: Christ taught this lesson to the disciples; it’s a private lesson, if you will. His humility cloaks His power.

Even the winds and the waves…

If sleeping on the couch is a sign of Christ being fully human, stilling the wind and the waves is certainly a sign of Christ being fully divine. Can you imagine the look on Peter’s face? By His Word he created all things; by His Word he stills the storm. It shows us, therefore, that

The authority of Christ over the universe is absolute and supreme.

Demon Possession

When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. And they cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. The demons began to entreat Him, saying, "If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine." And He said to them, "Go!" And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters. The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region.

(Mat 8:28-34 NASB)

Side note: do demons really exist?

Begin with some obvious facts. Ask the missionary to peoples and tribes who have never known God. They’ll tell you that demons are very real, demon possession (especially by the shaman) well known. It is only in Christian countries that Satan tries to persuade us that he (and therefore God) doesn’t exist. Most Americans today believe in mental telepathy but deny the existence of things spiritual. So let us examine this belief, and suggest some questions which might assist us in dealing with such people:

  • First, does the spiritual world exist at all? Most people would agree that it does – but have no idea why this might be logical. If it does exist, it must be made of matter and/or energy – because that’s all that exists. But consider:

Let me start matters by defining the universe: I hold it to be all matter and energy, in all places and in all times. Now, have you ever heard of anything which willed itself into existence? We know the universe to be of a certain age; there was no universe before then. So, something caused the universe to start. That something (Christians would say Someone) must be other than matter and energy – because if it were matter and/or energy it would be part of the universe. That something exists outside the bounds of the universe; that Someone is not matter or energy but spirit.

Well, that works for matter and energy – then. Is there anything outside the universe that is still true today? There is indeed. Suppose that tomorrow morning the universe ceased to exist (and you with it). Would the Pythagorean theory still be true? Of course it would. It is true, and therefore part of Truth – which needs no universe.

If you need more, look to the pigs. Pigs don’t go lemming on you.[5]

Christ comes to the demon possessed

No one brought these two to Christ. That’s fairly obvious; these two had sufficient strength when the demons are in them that nobody can keep them chained up, let alone lead them as docile sheep.

They are the most miserable of sinners; therefore Christ goes to them. It’s as if Christ has no comfort zone – and we shouldn’t either. It gives one pause: just who should we be bringing before the Living Christ?

A short stay

The demons give us an interesting interaction:

  • First, the mere presence of the Christ puts them into “beg for mercy” mode. His very presence torments them. As it often happens, the Christian need not mention his religion to cause the obscenity to stop.
  • Even to the demons, Christ is charitable. The end of the world has not arrived; He permits them into the pigs.[6]

That last, however charitable to the demons, obviously is not going to curry favor with the owner of the pigs. Whose swine would be next? More to the point, the man that has that authority over demons – what might He do next?

One thing we may conclude from all this:

The authority of Christ over the spiritual world is absolute and supreme.

The Authority of Christ

Matthew later puts it this way:

Mat 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Here it is proclaimed, after the Resurrection. Before the Resurrection it was visible to all who would look. After the Resurrection it is stated by the one man who ever called the shot – that He would rise from the dead. Someday, soon please Lord, that point will be obvious to one and all.

What should we be doing in the meantime? Let His words speak to us directly:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

(Mat 28:19-20 NASB)

[1] 1st Kings 19:19-21

[2] Leviticus 21:10-11

[3] Numbers 6:1-8

[4] It should be noted that Mark tells this story a little differently – and his version is rather humorous, if you catch the point.

[5] It’s also worth noting that the pig is a ceremonially unclean animal. The refuse of the spiritual world would feel quite comfortable there.

[6] Which raises more questions than it answers. What is the relationship between demon and body?

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